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Op-ed column: Losing touch

Modern disconnect, just not caring, hurts more than vandalism

Sunday, December 13, 2009
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Forest Byrd/For The Sunday Gazette
Forest Byrd/For The Sunday Gazette

Let me tell you a story. I live in a rural area between Perth and West Galway. I’ve lived there my whole life. It used to be a quiet place. I fished a lot. But then the sprawl reached us. Fields that once supported grazing Holsteins now support modular homes and McMansions.

And with the sprawl came more people. I know, nothing stays the same. That’s progress.

But something else changed. People.

It’s hard to explain. Call it a lack of connection. A strange thing to say in the Web-connected world. People move about doing their own thing, oblivious to how their actions affect others. Some just don’t give a damn.

Over the years I’ve experienced a bout of vandalism; mail boxes ripped away, garbage dumped on my lawn. I’ve had to politely inform deer hunters to stay off my back lawn. I’ve watched the rich guy from West Galway fly his WWII aircraft 200 feet above my home. Yeah, just some of life’s aggravations. I don’t like it, but I’ve tried to accept it: “Roll with the punches,” “yield and overcome.”

Day of change

One Sunday last month changed all that. At first it may sound trivial, but it hurt. It still hurts.

One of my neighbor’s kids has an ATV. Quads, I think they’re called. He rides it every day, it seems, in the field in front of my house, down the road then into the field. Around and around he goes, back and forth, hour after hour. It’s loud. I let it go. After all, these are the kids’ best years. Let him have fun.

But then, on that beautiful Sunday, he decided to so something more. He drove his machine to the edge of my driveway and deliberately pushed over a “No Trespassing” sign I had fastened to a post. Then he backed up and rode away. I saw it happen. I was mad, but I did nothing. Every town has some old crank that yells at any kid within 100 yards of his property. I didn’t want to be that guy. I waited for the kid to leave; then I walked outside with a sledgehammer and pounded the post back into the ground. Less than an hour later, I heard the familiar roar. There was junior again, headed straight for my sign post. This time he had a friend with him. He slowed down and stopped just as his front bumper touched the post. His eyes raised and he stared at my house. Then he twisted the machine’s throttle. Down went the sign post.

Funny thing, adrenaline. Before I realized it, I was standing in my driveway yelling at the punk to get off my property. The kid was so startled, he forgot how to shift into first, but finally they rode away. You know how it is after you blow your top. You feel anger, shame, weakness. I don’t like those feelings. I told myself it was over now. I did the right thing. The kid was caught red-handed. He learned his lesson. I was wrong.

Ten minutes later, they were back. They approached my home. The kid’s friend, seated in the rear, was holding something straight into the air. It was a handgun. As they came closer, he leveled his arm and pointed the gun at me. Bang! Bang! Bang!

Accident victims always tell how time slows as their car rolls over an embankment. That’s how it was; I watched the barrel of that gun for several minutes. But they were only seconds. And as I watched those two ride away, I began to breathe again. It was only a cap gun. A toy.

Loss is hard

I’m getting old. This is a new experience for me. One of the hardest parts is loss. I’m losing stuff: family, friends, muscle mass, bladder control. Every day, a part of who I thought I was is being taken away. I feel more vulnerable. To be honest, sometimes I’m afraid.

However, nature is kind. It abhors a vacuum. For the stuff it takes away is replaced with clarity, insight. I can see the source of that little voice now; the one that has guided me for so many years. It lays hidden, deep inside all of us. Call it the ego, the little self.

The ego is like an animal. Its hunger never ends. Money, possessions, power, more is never enough. When cornered, it lies and cheats and spits out hate. But time shows us what we’re afraid to admit. The ego is a liar. We try to turn away and not see; we want to go back to our toys. But age takes us by the scruff of the neck and forces us to look, until finally we see the truth; that what we really wanted and needed was to care for others and have them care for us.

I saw an old quote on television, of all places. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

I was wounded on a Sunday afternoon and it hurt. It wasn’t the vandalism or the gun. It was the message sent loud and clear: I don’t give a damn. I don’t care.

Martin Vidulich lives in Amsterdam. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

 
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comments

December 14, 2009
3:26 p.m.
tblongiewicz says...

I grew up and live here also and watch the planes buzz the houses, people speed down Rt.132 like I am a target when I get the paper or mail. Now every week someones mailbox is on the ground.But I remember my father saying the same things! Do we see clearer as we get older? It would be nice for people to care, but things don't seem to change.

January 23, 2010
8:50 a.m.
BallstonJournal says...

well written and heart felt.

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