Posted by: Scott | October 2, 2010

A Reverent Attack on Violent Irreverence

A few days ago, I was using a computer at my local library (Why? See last post…Murphy’s Law Month). Two kids at nearby terminals were playing a computer game. Some kinda war game. They were about seven years old. I couldn’t help but notice when I overheard one of them brag about “committing suicide” to evade capture by his companion. A seven-year-old, flippantly commenting about committing suicide? Has the idea experiencing violence become that irreverent? With no chastising parent in range, I thought of making a flippant remark of my own, but discretion being the better part of boldness, I held my toungue. 

Okay, okay, I know what someone reading this is gonna say. “Didn’t you play ‘soldier’ when you were a kid?” True, I did. But maybe in this post-Cold War enviroment I’m reflecting that we have to stop promoting senseless, meaningless violence, where there are no consequences or real injury. Because there ARE consequences if we don’t attach meaning to an act of violence. 

I say this because I’m writing a book in which there violence sporadically occurs, and some morbid humour to go with it. But even the humour has a point: to help the reader get by the ugliness of the violence without losing interest in the larger story: the reasons why people kill and what happenss to their sense of self-worth, their soul, if you like. 

Killing yourself isn’t a simple, reversable thing you do in a video game. Even if you believe in reincarnation (and I do), committing suicide is a kind of irreversible thing to do in one’s present incarnation, and should be treated with that kind of  respect. 

Okay, enough with the irreverence with which popular culture treats violence. I would, however like to submit for your attention an opinion piece I wrote for the Burnaby Now in the summer of 2007. The incident was real, and made me look a little differently at all those “Road Runner” cartoons I watched as a 7-year-old kid. Slightly revised, here it is. 

One cannot wonder if we have somehow lost touch with our humanity when we don’t stop to help or regard the other beings with which we share this world and with which we sometimes come into conflict.

On Wednesday, June 6, just before 7pm, I was walking south on Griffiths Drive north of Rumble Street when I witnessed a dark-coloured SUV (a Honda CRV or its Toyota equivalent) run over a little black squirrel as it tried to cross the road. This happened about ten metres in front of me and, when I reached the point where it lay, I discovered that the squirrel was still alive, albeit barely, and not for long. It was not a sight for the squeamish.

Coughing up blood with each breath it took, the squirrel tried to lift its head and shoulders away from the pavement, as if to try carry on its way. It would then lay back on the road and try again a few seconds later. The squirrel tried three or four times in this way to escape its fate before finally giving up.

I wanted to attempt to get it off the road somehow, to drag it onto a patch of grass where at least it could die in something more akin to its natural habitat. Passing motorists, however, would only slow down and swerve just enough to have a look as they drove around the mortally wounded animal before carrying on with their busy lives. The person who struck the squirrel must have been especially busy; they disappeared so quickly that I didn’t see which way they went.

To the motorist who struck the squirrel, I have this to say:

That little black squirrel obviously didn’t know the rules of the road – don’t cross in the middle of the block; look both ways before you cross; don’t play in traffic – but neither do most children under five. Slowing down for a small animal crossing the road is good practice for allowing small, young excited humans to safely do the same. This is an important issue for me as I will soon have a great-niece or great-nephew living in the Edmonds area.

What if a child had followed that squirrel onto the road?

I would like to think that you would at least have the compassion, the humanity, to interrupt your busy life and stop to take responsibility and bear witness to the mysteries of life and death, even if there was nothing else you could do. I would hope you would at least do that for a child, if not for a little black squirrel.



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