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Just another point of view: Some things are never going to make sense

Former managing editor of The Times as well as the Lake Oswego Review, Mikel Kelly is now chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.I’ve admitted here before that I’m not a parent.

My friends who are parents insist I’ll never understand what that does to your head — how it takes you outside of your own little world and gives the whole world a different kind of meaning.

But (you knew there had to be a but, right?) I did come from a family. I was a child, with a mom and a dad, with three brothers, all of whom married other people and produced children. My wife and I are surrounded by nieces and nephews and the children of friends and neighbors, so we do have an inkling about this.

I’ve also admitted here before that I have deep and true understanding of almost nothing that goes on around me. I don’t know why things that work do work. And when they don’t, I don’t know why that is either.

I’m pretty much confused about everything all the time.

With those disclaimers out of the way, I’d like to add one more voice to the chorus of questions, statements, theories, observations and sermons that have resulted from the two horrendous news events of last week — in which a couple of losers decided to take guns to a shopping center and a school and shoot a bunch of innocent people.

Like everybody else, I have no idea what to make of that. I don’t believe for a minute that we can legislate our way out of danger. That elementary school in Connecticut had far more rigid security measures than the grade school in Milwaukie where I go every week to read with first- and second-graders in the SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) program.

The world certainly is a more security-conscious place today. Visitors to every school I’m aware of have to sign in at the front office, and all the doors but one are locked.

But, unless we station armed guards at every door and subject every visitor to a military-style shakedown, we’re not going to eliminate the threat of a nut-case yay-hoo hyped up on video games or war movies intent on violence.

The one thing I might have to offer this conversation has to do with my view of the world in general — especially as it involves nature.

I grew up in the boondocks, playing in the woods, the river and the ocean, and the most important lesson I learned came in two parts: One, the world can hurt you, even kill you, in a heartbeat. Where I grew up, in the Oregon Coast Range, I learned you can drown, be shot, fall out of a tree, be swallowed by the sea, drive off a cliff, blow yourself up, be killed by an animal — the possibilities are almost endless, and I had many friends and family members (loggers, fisherman, hunters, etc.) who left this world one of those ways.

But the second part of this lesson came to me in, of all places, a college literature class, when I read a short story called “The Ledge” by Edgar Allen Beem. And this powerful little tale, set on the coast of Maine in late 1956, came to mind when I began hearing all the radio chatter about people in Oregon and Connecticut trying to make sense of these two unrelated yet similar happenings.

To recap just a bit, “The Ledge” was based on a true story, of three people who were duck hunting and got stranded on a ledge of land and, when the tide came in, they all perished. (A really good synopsis can be found at downeast.com/magazine/2012/december/the-ledge).

But, as we talked about the story in class, the conclusion I reached was something I already knew from my own experience: that nature can kill you — but it is a big, big mistake to give it too much meaning. Right then and there, I became a lifelong advocate of NOT personifying nature. It isn’t a he or a she. It doesn’t “do” things to us, it just is.

About a year ago, two of the most important people in my life — my wife and my cousin Sandra — were taking an innocent walk on the beach at Lincoln City and were way up in the soft sand near the sandstone cliff when they suddenly found themselves waist-deep in seawater from a sneaker wave. When they realized they were surrounded by giant driftwood logs (any one of which could have smashed them both like bugs), they scrambled up the bank, just as a second huge wave rolled all the way in to the foundation of the Inn at Spanish Head. Although they weren’t staying at that establishement, they sloshed their way in the door and made their getaway through the hotel elevator.

They were both natives of the coast, and it dawned on me then that maybe all the people who die from sneaker waves and rolling logs aren’t inexperienced visitors from Portland or Iowa. It can happen to anybody. And, like all the other things that can take your life, it isn’t necessarily somebody or something doing it to us. It’s just nature.

It’s quite possible, I decided last week, that crazy people with automatic weapons may have to be viewed as a manifestation of a force that just “is,” in much the same way that sneaker waves, or the tide, or a raging river or an avalanche can occur when you just happen to be there.

I know it doesn’t make sense. Most things don’t. We can wear ourselves out trying to make sense of these things and still come up short.

Of course, that does not mean we shouldn’t take all the precautions we can to avoid the dangers around us. We have to be mindful that the world is full of things that can hurt us and do everything we can to keep our loved ones and ourselves as safe as possible.

Then we have to go on living.




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