Friday, April 19, 2013

Hunting goodwill

Might as well join the many memes and morphs
of Britain's 1939 war propaganda poster,
"Keep Calm and Carry On."
Bits of Monday's Boston bombing radiated across the continent to Tuesday's twilight swim at Lake Natoma, where matters tumbled endlessly in my mind as I turned over and over through the cool water.

Old ordinary matters garnered new ashen regard. Crazy thoughts gained credence.

Why? Why commit such a monstrous act at the Boston Marathon except to yank everyone's attention and then deliver your message ("I hate ___________ because ______________!")?

In rapid and tragic succession, one of the bombing suspects revealed yesterday is dead following a gunfight and violent chase that also killed a police officer. The other suspect is still at large.

Why? Unless these, if responsible, are just sick, unable to reason or communicate.

Or unless these sought terror for terror's sake, anonymous (for a few days, anyway) and agile, on secret terms.

Why? For fun? The thrill of the kill?

Introspective almost by definition, swimming lets me wonder and wander. Tuesday night it was about the nature of evil and the product of anger, even as I tried to outswim it.

Late afternoon is the only time lately that my buddy Doug can swim. Otherwise I avoid it. At Lake Natoma, late afternoons are the perfect storm of blinding sun on the homeward leg, wind chopping the surface, collegiate rowing crews and their zigzagging high school counterparts, along with friendly Hawaiian outrigger crews, recreational kayakers, families with their dogs along the beach — and the bane of my swim state, racing kayakers.

I besmudge them all unfairly in their long, sleek Huki-style boats; I've had sharp quick words with a few in the past, because I don't understand why they paddle so fast and close to the crowded shore, which we hug to keep out of the boat traffic. Some have told us in swift passage that they can see us and quit griping. But we can't see them and that makes us nervous.

They mean no harm. I think. They dart around us easily enough, though some have cleaved our swimming group with their sharp boats, it seems, just because they can. They could just as easily paddle to the far shore of the lake and race unperturbed and unperturbing. But they don't.

One paddler in particular races up and down, so close to the beach I'm surprised her carbon fiber paddle doesn't shred against the rocky sloping bottom. She always wears her ballcap pulled low over her eyes, and paddles with her chin set, always looking ahead, not even a sidelong glance at us or children splashing in the shallows as she knifes among us, windmilling fast.

I do not like her very much.

Last week I was convinced she had purposely trapped me along the shore where a tall cottonwood long ago fell into the water. The treefall marks almost exactly 800 yards from our swim starting point, and forgetful swimmers can get caged in its slimy green branches. We have to swing farther from shore to avoid it, then in again.

This paddler came at me just as I was starting to round the tree, and seemed to force me back into its branches. I tried to kick hard and splash water at her, just as I have in the past, but it was futile and I ended up with calf cramps, as always. I think sometimes about overturning her boat.

She was out there Tuesday, just as we were about to get in. "Hey, my favorite paddler!" I told Doug. We had to keep our heads on swivels, as Doug says, in frequent watch for her.

Up and back she went, her presence marked only by the brief close shadow she cast in the hard afternoon glare. Paddling into the sun, her face is a hard cold shadow.

Near the small island where we usually turn around, Doug, far ahead of me, decided to call out to the paddler as she passed.

"Hey, how's it going?" Doug said loudly, his yellow-capped head bobbing in the water, his big smile flashing.

Startled, she nearly dropped her paddle. "Oh! Uh, hello!"

Doug's moment changed everything, revealing she's not the evil Huki paddler I decided she was. She's a driven athlete, focused on her task, to the exclusion of the world around her. A bit irresponsible, perhaps, but not mean.

Whatever she's striving for, she works hard at it.

In Doug's moment, we may have reached d├ętente. Soon may come the conversation that starts, "Why don't you paddle on the other side of the lake?" or "I'll paddle wide when I see you from now on," some measure of understanding.

Was that going on in Boston, a measure of misunderstanding, of anger, of frustration, blowing up literally into hatred? Were moments missed, long ago, somewhere, that would have averted a tragedy?

Was it as simple as what one of the suspects supposedly wrote: I don't have a single American friend?

Simplistic ponderation, perhaps.

Keep calm and swim on.

I agree with the many who said right away the Boston Marathon should continue, would come back better and stronger, that runners should still run and athletes should still play, or else terror wins. I try not to think of the dead and injured, of the moment and these long moments after; I marvel at those who helped, making me examine whether I would or could, and reaffirming the idea that we exist overwhelmingly in goodwill. When you stop to consider how easy it is everywhere, at any moment, to maim and kill, if willing … goodwill prevails.

Goodwill may have its limits and borders, though. The world may say to us, "Welcome to a day in the life of Syria/Afghanistan/The Gaza Strip/Bangalore/Chechnya/Pakistan/Iraq/Mali." Families of children gunned down in Newtown, Conn. may say, "Our children were slaughtered but our Senators care more for their re-election than for even some small measure that would check whether a buyer at a gun show might use the weapon to murder others."

America shows its exceptionalism in the Boston bombing: Not on our soil.

In the novel Watchmen, one of the flawed superheroes in a realistic but alternate universe creates a disaster so horrific that warring nations set aside their hatred to combat the disaster. Thousands are sacrificed to save millions.

In my crazy swimming thoughts, I wondered if these who bombed the Boston Marathon were somehow igniting people's will to help others in crisis. Because that's what happened. Of course, I thought that about the Newtown shootings too, trying to make something reasonable out of insanity, that the shooting deaths of small children would temper our regard for guns. So far, nope.

What will also happen, I fear, is we'll ignore Benjamin Franklin again, who supposedly said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Who knows next where we'll not be allowed to go, and what we won't be able to carry, in defense of so-called liberty. Who knows whom our government will decide misguidedly is a target of our retaliation, and drag us into more bloodshed.

Now as ever, perplexed, I keep calm and swim on, agile and anonymous, on my own terms.


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