Archive for January, 2013

I watched helplessly as the dog scurried back and forth, mere inches from the moving freight train.  The animal was desperately seeking an opening big enough so he could dart under the metal monster and could get to the other side.  Through the gaps between the wheels, as they thundered by, he could see his elusive goal.  The train itself took no notice of the frantic dog.  If he darted under the wheels, the resulting carnage wouldn’t hamper its progress in the slightest.  And at the train’s destination, if anybody examined the wheels and found blood, it would hardly be unusual: just another animal unlucky enough to get hit by a train.

The dog scurried back and forth, whimpering, barking, terrified, but determined to find a way across.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  He’d stick his snout into a gap and snatch it back a split-second before an iron wheel could strike him.

Sitting in my car, waiting for the train to pass, I was certain the poor dog was going to try to cross, almost as certain as I was that, if he tried, he would be killed or maimed.  But what could I do?  If I approached the animal, he might get scared and bolt under the wheels.  If I yelled or called to him, the same thing could happen.  He didn’t know me.  He wouldn’t listen to me or trust me.  If I left him alone, he might give up, or wait till the train passed, or he might take his chances.  I was terrified.  I just had to do something!  I couldn’t just sit by and watch the frightened, desperate creature get slaughtered or mutilated.  It was torture to watch him.

Do something! I screamed in my mind.

Do something!  Anything!

When felt I could stand it no longer, I opened the door and leaped from my vehicle.  The dog continued to dart back and forth, whining in terror and desperation to reach his goal.  If anything, he was more frantic.

I yelled, “No!”

That got his attention.  The dog glanced at me, but then snapped his head back toward the train.  He yelped in pain as his nose was struck by a wheel.  In an instant, he ran away, yelping and howling as he went.  Soon he was out of sight.

I got back into my car and trembled as the train rumbled on, unheeding of the damaged dog or the helpless human.

The incident occurred a decade ago, but it still haunts me.  Unanswered questions linger, festering like old, unhealed wounds.  Was I responsible for the dog’s injury?  How badly was he hurt?  Did he run off, only to try the same thing at some other point along the track?  If I had done nothing, would the dog have continued his frantic efforts, only to be forced to wait until the train had passed?  In other words, by doing something, had I only made things worse?  I fear I know the answer to that last question.

He acted out of fear and desperation.  He was helpless to overcome those impulses.  He was incapable of overcoming his fear.

But what about me?  I let my fear and desperation overcome my reason.  In my head, I knew that by taking any action, I was almost ensuring that the animal would be injured or killed.  The safest course, the hardest course, would have been to leave him alone and pray that his instinctive fear would be enough to preserve him.  But instead, I acted and he was injured.  Of course, I didn’t put the dog on the wrong side of the train tracks.  I wasn’t responsible for the train being there and passing as it did.  I’m not responsible for either of those circumstances.  The train cannot be blamed, nor can those who drove and directed it.  The poor dog cannot be blamed.  He was just following his instincts.  He didn’t know any better.

I have no way of knowing what the outcome would have been if I hadn’t yelled, “No!”  If I had done nothing, and the dog was still injured or killed, I would have felt awful, but it wouldn’t have been my fault.  My inaction wouldn’t have caused death or injury.  But I do know that, because I didn’t restrain myself, I frightened the animal, and he was hurt.

My favorite instructor at USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training was an old, crusty B-52 pilot.  He was long on experience and wise in judgment.  He taught me, in an emergency, first and foremost, fly the airplane.  If you stop doing that, you’re dead.  Then you do the applicable “boldface” procedures.  These were the emergency procedures that were ingrained in us.  We had to memorize them verbatim and be able to recite them or write them down on demand and under stress.  There could be no mistake and no deviation from the boldface procedures.  If you were asked to recite one of them and you hesitated or got one word wrong or stuttered, you were grounded (not allowed to fly) for at least a day (and not until after you were able to successfully pass a repeat “boldface” test).  Likewise, if you were asked to write them down and you misspelled one word or got one comma or period out of place, you were grounded.  So first, you continued to fly the airplane, and second, you performed the applicable boldface procedures.  And what was the third thing?  You eat your lunch, of course.  No kidding.  That’s what he taught me.  What he meant by that is, after you keep the airplane flying and handle the immediate emergency using the essential steps, you take a second and think.  Your natural impulse is to do something, anything.  That can get you and others killed.  If you’re going to bring the aircraft home and keep everyone aboard safe, consider your next actions carefully.

Reason over fear.  Logic over instinct.

  1. Stay alive.
  2. Take the immediate and essential emergency steps.
  3. Stop and think before you do anything else, especially something that might make the situation worse.

We have had a string of national tragedies of late.  Innocents have been murdered.  And the cry rings out:  Do something!  Anything!  There are those who will exploit the tragedy and the victims to advance their agenda, whatever that agenda is.  There is one word that describes such exploitation, regardless of their agenda : EVIL.  But the rest of us?  We simply want the horror and the pain to go away.  We are afraid and we’re desperate.  We desperately want to protect our children.  But some of the actions being considered in our haste to do something, anything might actually make the situation worse.

Six year-olds have been suspended from school for pointing fingers at each other and saying, “Bang,” in a recess game of cops and robbers.  A five year-old was suspended from school and declared a “terrorist threat” for saying she was going to “shoot” soap bubbles at a friend.  Another child was searched, called a murderer, and humiliated in front of her class for having an unadorned, L-shaped piece of white paper in her backpack at school.  Another child was told by her school that the photograph she had on her notebook of her brother, who happens to be a soldier, is inappropriate and must be removed.  I understand that we’re scared, but is any of this keeping children safe?

I don’t know what the answer is, but it sure seems to me that we should all take a moment and think, rather than rush to do something, anything.  Such actions usually lead to a false sense of security, and that leads inevitably to danger.  It doesn’t matter if you ban all guns or rush out and buy one.  A ban won’t stop the monsters from murdering, and having a gun won’t protect you or your family in a gun-free zone.

On the other hand, I do know the answer.  It’s an answer so simple that many would declare it “simplistic”.  We have to stop producing monsters.  And we can do that only by turning back to God.  And before you dismiss this, consider what our nation would be like if everyone strove to live the Ten Commandments and taught them to their children.  There will always be evil in the world.  But in God, in following His commandments, and in teaching our children to do the same, there is peace.  There is safety.  We won’t find it in the arm of flesh, whether that be armed guards in our schools, a gun ban, or a personal arsenal.  If we all take a moment and examine what’s important in our lives and remind ourselves and our children to love our neighbors, to respect others’ property (“Thou shalt not steal,”), to be honest, to speak truthfully of others and not gossip (or bully), to exercise self-control (“Thou shalt not commit adultery,”), to work for what you receive (“Thou shalt not covet…”), to value life (“Thou shalt not kill”), to honor our parents, wouldn’t we all be better off?  There will always be those who will not live these most basic of principles (and none of us is perfect in keeping all of them all the time), but the answer lies in being good ourselves.  It doesn’t lie in trying to force others to think as we do (that would be contrary to the principle of loving our neighbors), but in becoming the people we know we can be, the people He wants us to be.  And our efforts will be all in vain, if we don’t acknowledge Him as we strive to live His commandments.

If you think this is an over-simplification, consider this: we’ve tried virtually every other “enlightened” solution that man can devise, and things have gotten horribly worse.  We are not making progress.

It’s time to reverse course.  It’s time to turn back to our Heavenly Father.  It’s time to stop producing monsters.

Now that would be doing something.

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