Something about the meaning of life (and death)

Something about the meaning of life (and death)

La via del tren subterraneo es peligrosa.
La via del tren subterraneo es peligrosa.

Forgive this departure from the usual daily grind. I am taking liberties here partly based on the excellent example set by Renee Nal yesterday. If you haven’t read her post focusing on a thoughtful birthday gift that two Romanian teens created for their mother, it’s here and I urge you to read it. Besides, if you’re looking for hard, up-to-the-minute news, I refer you to LU’s “Around the Web” section, which has a freshly minted capsule report on a rise in public masturbation in Vancouver.

Back to my musing. Yesterday, around 1:30 p.m., I resolved to take action regarding a cough that had been dogging me for about a week. I phoned my doctor’s office, the receptionist shoehorned me in for an appointment, and I immediately headed uptown on the subway. As I was standing on the platform waiting for the train, I heard an announcement over the public address system that downtown service was delayed because of an accident.

I didn’t give the message much thought since I was traveling in the opposite direction.

I arrived at the doctor’s where I waited about a half hour before I was escorted into his inner sanctum. There he diagnosed my condition as mild bronchitis, prescribed an antibiotic, and sent me on my way.

When I reached the platform of the downtown train, it was a mob scene. A train packed with passengers sat motionless in the station, its doors open. The accident that had been barely penetrated my consciousness earlier now had my full attention. The PA announcer explained that service was delayed indefinitely. Because my mind works in the unusual way that it does, the first thing that occurred to me was that someone had jumped.

My hunch was confirmed when I got back to my desk and read that a Cornell University professor named Donald Tobias had flung himself in front of a local as it pulled into the station. His head was severed.

He was not the only New Yorker to choose this horrible mode of self-destruction yesterday. A young man in the Bronx also suicided by jumping onto the tracks as a speeding train entered the station. He, too, was decapitated and, according to eyewitnesses, the severed head tumbled off the elevated track to the street below.

What is striking about the way these men chose to go out is that it has made each into a footnote. Consider the aftermath of their demise, not to those who knew them but to the strangers in the vicinity. The Post notes that in the Bronx incident, a father needed to shield his daughter eyes from the bloodied head rolling along the street.

To others in subway stations away from the accident scenes, the men’s deaths were little more than an inconvenience, a disruption in afternoon travel plans. Whatever good either may have achieved during his lifetime is trivialized by the sensationalism of his exit.

So much for my deep thoughts. Thanks for listening. I think I’ll go reread “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.


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