The Giant Playpen
By Norris Burkes
-- Our culture has made job safety an art form. We do everything to
protect ourselves from death. From an early age, we learn fire prevention,
drug prevention, stranger awareness, and pedestrian safety. And once
in puberty, we learn contraception, rape prevention and AIDS awareness.
We host prevention conventions. We wear hats, helmets and seatbelts.
We take lifesaving classes in smoking cessation, self-defense, defensive
driving, and CPR. We read books on diet, exercise, and stress management.
But on September 11th when everything changed we saw safety to
be the illusion its always been. Aboard four different aircraft,
it didnt help anyone to know how to buckle seatbelts, operate breathing
masks or use seat cushions as floatation devices. There are no aisle
exit lights in existence that would have led them to safety.
Now, post 9/11 we are redoubling efforts to pursue the ever-evasive
idea of safety. If you fly, you must leave the bobby pins, toothpicks,
nail files, and box cutters at home because we are trying to make
our world safe again. The question is, how much safety can our best
efforts really produce?
It was failure of a moms best efforts to make safe her microcosmic
world that brought her three year old son into our emergency room
The staff greeted the family with questions. Surely his mother had
let him out of her sight, or his father had him in the yard and was
not watching him properly. "Obviously, shes a parent not watching
her kid! "Humph!" we said, self-righteously.
We were pretty good at playing 20 questions with the families of
trauma patients. You see, if we could name at least two or three stupid
things that the victim had done, then we could assure ourselves that
there was no way anything this stupid or tragic could happen to us.
That's when the facts began to cloud our judgment. Facts are tricky
Mom had taken him on a play date to a beautifully swept tennis court
in an exclusive metropolitan suburb. The court was locked, supervised,
gated, cleaned and staffed by background-checked employees.
"Can I take off my shoes, Mommy?"
"Sure, "she replied, not wanting him to be so restricted.
He then began to challenge his environment by kicking at the tennis
fence. "This is fun," he must have thought. "Im in
a giant playpen with mommy." It was safe. Danger seemed to have
a boundary. If any trouble came, mommy was close enough to meet it.
Close enough maybe, but not fast enough. Trouble came at the speed
of light. Barefoot, he kicked a place on the fence near an outdoor
outlet that was not properly grounded. The fence was electrified and
standing barefoot on a damp court, his life spirit evaporated with
the morning dew.
"Darn!" The staff expressed. "There was nothing any
of us would have done differently. This could have been our kid."
So, before we use the incidents of 2001 to propel us back to Orwells
1984 by filling our streets with more cameras than a voyeuristic web
site, I think we must ask ourselves a few questions.
How can we balance our need for safety with our need to be free?
How much is death really preventable? If we fill our days with extraordinary
amounts of effort to prevent death, wont we somewhere along the way
be missing life?
Some would suggest that recent events related to terrorism and war
have ushered in a new reality. They say that we now have to live with
the reality of death at the hands of madmen or misguided zealots.
But the truth is that ever since the University of Texas tower, McDonalds
in San Ysidro, CA, Oklahoma City, Cleveland Elementary and Columbine,
we have lived in that reality. It is not new! But since 9/11, it is
Death has always been undeniably closer than we think. There is no
way we can prevent death and stamp out evil. Some might say that the
school ban on cargo pants at my sons school has prevented another
Columbine, but I suspect evil will always find a way. And I think
before we try to impose a ban on evil, we have to remember that the
Psalmist reminded us that "the heart is desperately wicked, who
can know it?"
If the fear of death stops us from living, loving and longing for
a peaceful future, the planes that toppled the World Trade Center
will also have succeeded in toppling the foundation of a peaceful
society. Death is close, but life can be closer and I choose life.
For more information about Norris Burkes please log onto his website
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