The brutal collision that occurred at approximately 12:10 am on June 28 on Old Las Vegas Hwy., at mile marker 5, is only just beginning to fully unfold in the community. Many of us know the kids involved or we know their parents or we know their teachers. We are watching the sorrow-driven synapses of the city fire into an increasingly wide network of shock and anger, as tendrils of interconnectedness spread through the city (see page 14 for more).
Robbed of the complacency of geography and the insulating filter of mass media—factors that manage to simultaneously sensationalize death and make it unremarkable—we feel the accident not as a headline from elsewhere, but as an inconsolable despair that will be forever contained in the collective consciousness of the community.
There is no formula that wrestles logic from the events of June 28. There is no excuse, no resolution, no explanation, no justification. Blame will be part of the process going forward, but it is only the easiest manifestation of loss, of the helpless notion that the best to hope for is resignation and acceptance. The personal grief suffered by family and friends is vast and unknowable. What confronts the community is an existential subtraction: innocence, curiosity, possibility, vigor, enthusiasm, creativity—these things feel sucked suddenly away by an irrational wind.
For a culture that is ever-more dependent on surrogate communities enabled by technology and online “social networks,” this accident is an alarmingly intimate realignment: How terribly real, how wrenchingly finite the pond in which our lives ripple against one another. Websites like Facebook will no doubt be a legitimate part of the grieving process—repositories that accept testimony, memory, confession and counsel 24/7—but meanwhile, the non-virtual network of human contact, of mourning, memorials and spontaneous gatherings has been brought to…life.
John Berger, the wonderful writer of thoughts on art, politics and philosophy, put out a collection of “dispatches” in 2007. Hold Everything Dear: Despatches on Survival and Resistance is an apt summation of Berger’s ultimate sentiment in a succession of essays that deal with fear, terrorism, borders, the human spirit in the face of oppression and, most poignantly, death.
Berger observes that, in our culture of hyper-commoditization and endless distraction, we have significantly surrendered our relationship with death. It is rarely seen as spiritually intertwined with life, but rather as the blunt elimination of life—one that may be fended off with money, with distance, with entertainment, with disbelief. It is something to be inflicted, but never received. In fearing and ignoring death, he suggests, we lose the sense of timelessness in which the imaginations of those gone—all those possible futures—are able to form the core of life.
We are not about to transform to a place of peaceful acceptance: Some people live for long periods and others for short periods, and beauty erupts in all durations. It’s a biological truth, but it contradicts the instinctual genealogical wrongness of children dying before their parents.
How then, do we deal with this? Some of us will want to believe there is an answer in legislation; others will want an answer in punishment; a good many of us will wallow in reason’s absence, wondering why we’re alive, given all the stupid things we’ve pulled, while the bright future feels snuffed.
What was that future’s imagination? At its heart, I believe it was authenticity. In the same way mass media inures us to death, it tricks us into believing that being a teenager is all about superficiality, backbiting social cliques and image insecurity. Nothing could be less true. The process of careening toward adulthood is a fervent search for authenticity, one made all the more frantic by the apparent void of authenticity in the “adult world.”
We are too often hamsters on a wheel—something that is obvious to our community’s children—as we march toward whatever sudden or protracted certainty will take our own lives. Young people can see the cultural gizzard waiting to gnash them into complacency and they want nothing to do with it. Good parents raise them to want something better, but the rest of us have forgotten the short, electric paradise of life and wallow in work, bills, celebrity gossip and chemical “authenticity.”
Indeed, superficiality, backbiting and insecurity are the province of adults who have surrendered authenticity in favor of getting by. We think the future will save us, even as we put in debt and disenfranchise our children. What will we do when the bile rises high enough in the collective throat to risk drowning? Perhaps we’ll finally demand schools instead of war; perhaps the ideals of youth will be rewarded rather than chided as unrealistic.
In the meantime, it would be trite to suggest there is some cathartic or redemptive voyage in honoring authenticity, in remembering and surrendering to the fullness of life’s succession of brief moments. There is no self-help, pop-psychology nonsense that provides real remedy for senseless loss.
But we can remember, as John Berger suggests, to hold everything dear. Everything.