Thursday, July 12, 2012

backstory

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After she ran her red Toyota pickup into a telephone pole, the air bag deployed, passersby stopped to offer help, the police and emergency medical personnel showed up, and Doreen was taken to the hospital where she was treated for minor injuries and released.

"I don't lie well," she told me yesterday, "so when they asked me what happened, I told them: I was reaching for my cell phone. It all happened in less than a second. I was going around 30 mph."

Doreen was fined $135 -- partly for driving out of lane (up on the sidewalk) and partly for not paying sufficient attention. She showed me a healing burn on her left forearm where she got hit by the air bag and she said her shoulder still hurt ....

Two weeks after it all happened.

Two weeks.

And the only reason I found out about the accident at all was that while I was sitting on the porch yesterday, I saw Doreen park a newer, tan Toyota pickup and called out to her that I liked her new wheels. And she walked over to tell me about the accident and the fact that the red pickup had been adjudged a total loss.

Doreen and her husband Mike are good people. They are nearby neighbors with whom I share an occasional gab. I would call us friends, although our relationship is does not extend to a lot of socializing. I have seen their boys grow up and they can say the same about my kids. In some sense, I feel as if they are family ... I may not see them all that often, but we are warmly connected in some way I cannot adequately describe. We care about each other in ways that are not shared -- at least for me -- with other neighbors.

How could I have been so ignorant as not to know about Doreen's accident? This was important ... and I hadn't known.

And that put me in mind of the fact that every incident, every meeting, every moment, every large event or small brings with it a backstory, a context that remains invisible as what is visible unfolds. Some, of course, use this observation to excuse happenings in the present, but as a shrink friend of mine once observed tartly, "If a man punches you in the stomach, you don't ask if he lives in a rat-infested apartment."

Nevertheless, there is always a backstory and to forget that, to skip over the blind spots of whatever it was that brought the present into being, is a flaw we all share and is worth acknowledging. It is a good reminder that there is a usefulness to humility.

No one can know everything about everything, and yet the habit of acting as if the whole story were in hand is rife ... and a bit foolish.

There is no point in trying to write an earthy-crunchy Ph.D. thesis about a guy who punches you in the stomach, but that is not the same as saying a Ph.D. thesis couldn't be written.
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