Isla Negra, Chile
"Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera"
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda
I am one of those people whose emotions are fully embraced by the quotidian chiens écrasés appearing in the daily newspapers. Mothers drowning their children to flee responsibility, wives dousing abusive husbands with acid causing the victims to be totally ostracized from society, and so on. The acid attack article stuck with me a little longer than the others. Yesterday, walking home from a loop run in Central Park, I heard a man in a distant apartment screaming bloody murder. As I passed the friendly community garden which brought up fond memories of relaxing with Dakota and the local neighbors last summer, I tried to pinpoint the exact apartment the distressed screams were coming from. Cautious to appear indifferent to his cries, lest the perpetrators witness and later seek retribution, wearing a blank expression I maintained my gaze directly in front of me. After I crossed Manhattan avenue, and was safely off of any one's radar, I started to think. Some innocent guy could actually be in the final stages of a homicide attempt, and I had an opportunity to save his life. Now would be a good time to have a cell phone. A couple walking quickly and holding an umbrella (it was raining), passed me. They were having an intense conversation in Spanish. I plunged right in. 'Excuse me. I heard a man screaming across the street. Do you think we should do something?' They stopped their conversation and looked at me intently. The man was short and stocky, with thick, dark eyebrows. His eyes were fully focused on me. 'Do you want to call 911?' He asked me. I told him I didn't have a cell phone. He took his out, dialed 911 and handed me the phone. Both he and his female companion were watching me. I didn't realize he already dialed, so I started pressing buttons, unsure if they were alpha or numeric. 'I already dialed', the man told me. I listened and heard nothing. Then the dispatcher's tired voice tinged with a slight Brooklyn accent came through. '9-1-1, hello?' 'Oh sorry,' I said, embarrassed by everything that had transpired since finishing my run. 'I was walking home from a run in the park, and I heard a man screaming bloody murder.' I thought about that expression. Did people still use that expression? It sounded like something Ralph Kramden would have said to his wife. 'Jeez, Alice, I'm five minutes late, and you're over there screaming bloody murder!' The dispatcher repeated my words. 'So he screamed bloody murder?' I panicked for a second. Was I calling in a bogus report? A guy screams and I call
911. Maybe he stubbed his toe. No, it was a bad scream. A person being tortured kind of scream. 'Yes, he was screaming in pain.' The owner of the phone crossed the street to get the exact address. He came back and told me the building was housing a religious cult. My fantasies of being a hero were vaporizing before my eyes. The dispatcher asked if I wanted to leave my name and number. I told her I could, but I really didn't have anything else to contribute. I returned the phone to the guy, and the couple continued walking and holding their umbrella. I walked awkwardly next to them, since I was going the same way. The guy made a little small talk about running. He told me to have a nice day, and then turned to his companion. We were still walking inches away from each other. It was really awkward. I was glad when they crossed the street.
The news story I read the day before of acid attacks in Cambodia clearly fueled my imagination when I heard that man's screams. But the story that got to me that day was of the 33 trapped miners in Chile. Few of us can imagine with any authenticity what it is like to be trapped below civilization, in the heart of the earth, where the total absence of light is a constant reality. And then, like a Rabbi Boteach joke, the bad news got worse. The rescue effort that was estimated to take four months (four months in darkness!) can not be disclosed to the trapped miners. According to former NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger who survived degraded conditions as a result of a fire on his 1997 space mission, 'Psychologically, you need to know the end point.' Upon further reading, it seems these miners know a thing or two about survival. They likely already know the time frame involved in drilling a rescue tunnel. After my bloody murder saga, I don't think there is much I can contribute to this rescue effort either. But my thoughts are with the miners. One is named Jimmy Sanchez. In 4th grade I had a crush on a Jimmy Sanchez at the Starr King School in San Francisco. For months we exchanged millisecond glances. Then one day he talked to me. He was wearing his turquoise cardigan sweater, and his wavy, sandy brown hair was parted on the side. We were the last ones to leave the classroom for the cafeteria. He said, 'What's for lunch today?' And I told him, 'I think grilled cheese sandwiches.'
Sometimes a few words can bring you out of the darkness.