La Condition Humaine

What I had planned to write this weekend, or one of the things I was in the middle of writing, was my summer book report. Like every book report I’ve ever written, ever, it was coming together slowly and sure not to be delivered on time. Saturdays at 10:30 is an artificial deadline anyway. And among life’s unimportant things, it is decidedly inconsequential.

Though I’ve read some great books this summer (titles to be shared, perhaps, another day), my summer reading list isn’t particularly noteworthy or different from anyone else’s list. Did you like All the Light We Cannot See? Yes, me too. Did you like it very, very much? Yes, me too; very much. Haven’t read it yet? Well, it’s an intersection of physics and faith and humanity. I might even put it in my top five books, along with The End of the Affair, and She’s Come Undone, and Life of Pi and Man’s Fate.  I would go so far as to say that all of the things I believe are reflected in that one book, All the Light We Cannot See. I do always wonder who else believes these same things, not because I’m keeping score but for an occasional sense of comfort.

Me too; that’s the universal language of friendship and understanding. Did you have a dog you loved? Me too. Trouble losing weight after turning 40? Me too. A complicated family, a few disappointments, a miracle, an embarrassing moment (or dozen)? Yes, yes, yes; all of these things. If we pull out our tiny notebooks of scribbled, scrawled life experiences, it’s easy to see that we’re really not so different. We all make choices and then recover from their fallout, whether the fallout is good or bad. Read, react, recover. Repeat. We’re more alike than not, that is what I choose to believe.

But, then again, we are different, in ways that are peculiar and unfathomable. That’s probably what I would have written in the summer book report, if I had finished the post. I would have shared that I like books with complicated characters and messy plots, books without simple answers. I like that life is not a neatly wrapped package. Most days, that is what I would say.

But something happened, something in real life, that I’ve struggled all day to digest. Maybe you’ll struggle, too. It is not a happy story; it does not have a peaceful ending.

Several weeks ago, more than a month but less than two, I drove east from my neighborhood to retrieve my car from being serviced. The dealership is a good 30 minutes from my house, and since I was out that way I decided to run a couple of errands, even though it was getting late. My phone alerted me that there was a storm coming, one predicted to bring lightning and strong winds and battering rain. Grey clouds were moving quickly, shadowing the twilight sky. I was trying to get home before the storm hit, since driving in a heavy rainstorm makes me feel like an exceptionally incompetent driver.

Blue lights flashed in my rear view window. I pulled over and put the car in Park, retrieved my license and insurance card and registration. I rolled down my window, even though it was starting to drizzle. I felt apprehensive, though only a little. I might have been driving a bit fast; I am not certain.

A few minutes passed, and then a young, stocky, blond officer walked up to the driver’s side window. I asked if I had been speeding, and he said no ma’am but that I needed to turn on my lights, please. “It’s dark and there’s a storm coming; you need to see where you’re going.”

Apparently the dealership service team had turned the headlight switch from Auto to Off, and I didn’t notice it. I did wonder why the street was so dim. Dim; yes, that’s what I was, a silver-headed driver, probably going a bit over the speed limit, with no headlights. I thanked the officer for looking out for me. I drove straight home; he followed for a block or so, then turned. He was alone in his patrol car; I remember noticing that.

I saw this same officer again today, though not in person. I recognized his face, his build, his blond hair, premature balding. I remember him clearly, but I won’t be seeing him again; no one will. Last night during a routine traffic stop, officer Sean Bolton was shot and killed.

I believe, most days, that we humans are more alike than different, and that humanity is more often good than bad. I believe we make mistakes and that we are complicated and that it is impossible, truly impossible, ever to know with certainty another person’s motivation. I believe we are all trying our best with the hands we’ve been dealt. I believe these things with my whole heart, but some days I am simply at a loss. Some things I cannot comprehend; I cannot understand them at all.


  1. Beautifully written. I am right there with you. No words can express the sadness of such a senseless death. As a former Memphian (many years ago) my ears perked up when I heard “Memphis” on the newscast. Thank you for this.


  2. Jennifer I think this article should be in the CA, what a nice tribute to him and better than what was written today.


  3. There is evil in the world and it is just plain ole uncomprendable for decent humans. Very sad time for Memphis again.


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