In our neighborhood Wal-Mart is a gentleman named Chris. I don’t know him, I just greet him from time to time. He’s hard to miss–about 6’3″ or maybe 6’4″ with disheveled hair and the ubiquitous Wal-Mart vest, Chris doesn’t smile often. This can’t be that cliche, can it? What he does is offer help and kindness at every turn–to everyone–customers and colleagues alike. I noted about him that he is always on the spot at the self-checkout lanes to see if he can help you or, in the age of California idiocy, offer you bags, which have to be paid for now. His colleagues call him by name, smile at and with him and he smiles back. He’s an affable, friendly man.
I read today that he was a sports enthusiast, too. And I assumed also that he must have liked country music. I am guessing at that last one, but it’s a good bet. Chris was the 59th victim of the shooter in Las Vegas on Sunday night. He was hit in the head and on Monday morning, yesterday, he succumbed to his wounds. Another hole has been torn in the fabric of my community.
Berated rays of sunshine beat down like heat-angry devils and the cool breeze that has been kicking up has no promise in it. There are only crosses, there are only cares. Yesterday brought grief in heaps, large piles of it, like autumn leaves that stick even when the wind is blowing. There are no dancing, twirling clubs of them on the street under steely gray clouds. This is giant piles of death and dark-arrayed colors on everyone’s doorstep–on everyone’s stoop. We are in mourning–and we lash out, looking for someone to blame, finding that the ghosts we are grasping at are as ethereal as the fear that must have gripped those across from Mandalay Bay Sunday night.
I love the desert. I spent most of my life in Southern California and I’ve never loved it here–never been as happy with the climate as most are. But when I go to the desert, it is a place without pretense. It isn’t trying to be something it’s not–it is a vast expanse of beauty and emptiness writ large on a landscape that seeks its own level by saying, ‘you can’t live here. What does live here is tested, tried and tough. You aren’t. Move along.’ I like that about it. I am at peace with the place because it is hot and empty and large and it doesn’t want to be anything else. And Las Vegas was the giant middle finger to the desert, in some way; an oasis of all the hedonism a nation can manage in one city, corrupted by its own sin, lifted by the same and carried as a playground–where you can find trouble if you want it and ignore it if you don’t. But the desert doesn’t ignore it. It will swallow it up one day—and there won’t be anything left.
Right before school started, Sue and I went to Las Vegas and stayed in a friend’s timeshare there. We enjoyed ourselves, ate some good meals, saw two wonderful shows with Penn and Teller and Cirque de Soleil. It was just the two of us, romantic, lovely and at peace. Each of the three days, we drove by the big gold Mandalay Bay structure, marveling at the glitz of all of it–marred and sodden now with the wreckage of insanity, the detritus of sadness, grief and rage. It will never be the same, of course. But it will get better. Someday.
For now, there is heartbroken America. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth and there is conspiracy and blame–as all seek to make sense of the impossible. I want it to stop, like we all do. But I know better.
And then Tom Petty died. I’m not as eloquent as he is–the great American songwriter and singer who knew that what counted in music was truth and morals, justice and love. He was torn apart by the business end of it, but landed on his feet. His lyrics are the soundtrack to American summer–to American life. His death is a melancholy sadness–a man who died just a bit before his time, who had so much more to offer, but offered more than enough. On a normal day, his death would have been worth a long post by itself, full of reflections and recitation of his lyrics in paragraphs too thin to hold them. Now, he’s hovering above with the other angels–nearly an afterthought on a day that will scar memory like 9/11 did.
So, I’m not much tonight. I am wind and wisp of breezes that carry memories through some very dark tunnels. But I persist—and I dream. I must strive in the midst of it for that is what grief has taught me–to never give up, never let go–never stop loving and never stop. Just never stop.