Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I Visited America Today

I visited America this afternoon.

Have you ever been there?

It's really a special kind of place.

I was there with about two hundred* other Americans to honor 13 fellow citizens who had served in our military.  Yet those veterans had died either homeless, or alone, or without any family members to claim their body.

This America today was populated by all sorts of people from various walks of life who didn't seem to care how wealthy, or powerful, or conservative, or liberal any of us are.  We were assembled at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, nestled among rolling hills in a far western corner of Big D.  A couple of local media outlets had broadcast the news that today, at 1pm, the National Cemetery was burying its largest group to date of "homeless" veterans.

Officially, the term is "unclaimed," and of the twenty veterans in today's ceremony, 13 died without any known family or next of kin.

They were:

Army Specialist Joseph David Dobson, 84
Army Private Ned Carlston King, 56
Army Specialist Dennis Wayne Moore, 63
Marine Private Edward Charles Gipson, 60
Marine Private Grant Wells, Jr., 63
Navy Veteran Glenn Allen Gatton, 65
Navy Ensign Patrick Michael Kelly, 62
Navy Veteran Daniel Ray McKinley, 46
Navy Veteran Michael Snyder, 58
Navy Veteran Elbert Louis Wilson, 79
Air Force Staff Sergeant William Brugemann Beeson, 86
Air Force Master Sergeant Bobby Ray Gleason, 71
Air Force Veteran Jerry G. Marshall, 81

The seven others honored today had at least one family member who accept the traditional folded flag, "from a grateful nation."

I saw a story about this on the Internet this morning, and told Mom I was going to attend.  Without hesitation, she said she would as well.  So we showed up about 15 minutes early, with me figuring a small yet respectable crowd of other grateful Americans would also be there.  But when we turned the corner, driving past the gates into the cemetery, two snaking lines of backed-up traffic greeted us!

A burly groundskeeper on a golf cart glided by our car, and I rolled down the window.  "We're here for the homeless veterans' service?" I asked, trying to clarify whether the big turn-out was for that service, and not maybe for some other veteran who may have simply had a big family and lots of friends.

"Yup," he confirmed, saying that there indeed was another burial at 1 o'clock, and they were trying to separate the traffic for each event.  "I'm checking now to see what lane y'all need to be in."  And he was off.

Sure enough, there were about ten cars for the other service, but there were dozens - with more arriving every second - for the "homeless" veterans' service.  Another cemetery employee - obviously an office staffer who did not expect to be standing outside patrolling traffic today, at least considering her short skirt and short sleeves - gushed appreciatively at my opened car window that ours was the biggest crowd they'd ever had for a burial, and they were caught off-guard by all the attention their event had received. 

In a normal year, our local National Cemetery buries about 40 unclaimed veterans, but not in as large a group as they did today.

We waited for about 10 minutes - past the ceremony's official start time - before beginning to snake our way around a loop and then down into the cemetery itself.  There were easily fifty, sixty cars or more, and even more as we looked across a valley to where we could see a crowd already gathered with a color guard, flags and ribbons flapping in the stiff breeze.

We'd had rain this morning, and temperatures still hovered in the 60's, with a damp wind and no sunshine.  Appropriately dreary for a funeral, I figured.

I finally found a place to park, and Mom and I walked quite a bit further to an open-air stone gazebo where the ceremony was taking place.  We could hear the 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps" as we walked, along with dozens of other people.  Perhaps protocol should have made us stop stock still, in observance of these two hallmarks of a military funeral, but we all kept trudging along in the cold breeze.

Even once we reached the stone gazebo, none of us could hear what was going on, the wind was so loud.  Crisp American flags lining the venue flapped, slapped, and crackled loudly in the wind.  But it didn't seem to matter to anybody, except for a couple of children who didn't understand why everybody was just standing around in the blustery air.  Yes, there were children in attendance.  Old people, too.  Whites, blacks, and several other shades of skin color.  Well-dressed people, men and women in business suits, some wealthy-looking folks, and some that looked almost as destitute as those unclaimed veterans must have been.

One lady with a smart hairdo and a sleek black business suit had an infant and a toddler in tow, as if she'd left the office, run by day-care, and gotten her kids to witness this. 

Plenty of people were brandishing smartphones, but nobody was talking or texting - they were taking photos and videos of the crowd, and the line of fully-suited military personnel in the gazebo, stiffly presenting those folded flags to the seven assembled family representatives. 

Perhaps it was no small coincidence that at the end of the flag presentations, the wind died down significantly, enough for all of us to plainly hear a white-suited chaplain read some Scripture and give a brief benediction.  If I was a journalist, I'd have made a note of the Scripture reference, since neither Mom nor I can now remember what it was!  But even if few others in attendance were believers in the God of the Bible, we all heard a passage of the Gospel.  And everybody stood reverently, whether they really appreciated it or not.

Indeed, the crowd's decorum was profound, maybe because decorum seems to be so missing in our modern life.  Then, too, by that point, I think we'd all realized the obvious:  What we were witnessing, and participating in, was a genuine slice of honest-to-goodness America.  Not the political America, or the pop-culture America, or the squabbling America.  Our individual political views didn't matter just then.  Neither did anybody's sexual orientation, or skin color, or background, or criminal history, or occupation, or level of education, or home address, or what we drove... although quite a few very expensive vehicles lined both sides of the winding roadway.

I particularly noticed a tattered Subaru with ecology-themed bumperstickers parked there, alongside humongous pickup trucks and a brand-new white Mercedes sedan.  One businessman in a serious suit, wearing a huge, expensive-looking wristwatch, claimed a silver Prius.  One short, thin young man with dirty hair patiently crept through the crowds in a beat-up old Mitsubishi.  An elderly woman looked on from her Ford minivan, apparently unable to walk the distance up to the gazebo.

Up at the gazebo, however, it was just us grateful citizens, and the moment, and the patriotism.  No Democrats or Republicans, just a lot of people who had recently learned that 13 "homeless" veterans were being buried.  Men who had at some point defended us and our country, and who may have made some bad choices in their lives, or maybe suffered the ill psychological affects of battle fatigue or PTSD.  Maybe these men had intentionally separated themselves from their loved ones.  Who knows?  Yet right now, none of that dissonance really seemed to matter.

We all shared a common goal, those of us out there on this chilly, sunless afternoon.  We were taking an unplanned detour in our day and pausing to commemorate something we could all value:  Sacrifice for a cause.  Maybe none of these guys died in combat, but apparently they were willing to at some point, otherwise they wouldn't have been in the military.  Maybe the wars in which they fought were not originally conceived by the most altruistic of world leaders, or maybe they didn't end in a way many Americans welcomed.  Maybe some of the folks in attendance today were mostly motivated by the "homeless" and "unclaimed" designations of these men, saddened by the apparent breakdown in familial bonds, and disturbed that people can die so alone.

Hey - It's not as if any of us left the cemetery and immediately went to sign-up as volunteers at a local homeless shelter, after all.  But that wasn't the main purpose of attending today's ceremony, was it?

Mom and I attended - as I suspect just about everybody did - to honor not death, but life.  Our lives as Americans; our corporate life as free - or mostly-free - residents of this planet, with all of its evils and ills.  Our life with its freedoms safeguarded by people who volunteer to serve, even if our vast military industrial complex doesn't do as good of a job as it should to help make sure veterans don't end up homeless.  Indeed, maybe even a little shame that the greatest country in the world doesn't do more to make sure our veterans don't die unknown and unrecognized.

This America that we visited this afternoon came into existence with our gathering, from all walks of life, at this one spot, for one purpose.  And it likely dissipated just as we dispersed back into those various walks of life, as we all got in our cars, and drove away.

Funny how it takes thirteen people to die as unknowns for us to realize how much we share in common.

As much in common as those 13 fledgling colonies so long ago.

* A dubiously-written report by the Dallas Morning News estimated the crowd total at 100.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Has Your "Long Good-by" Begun?

FYI:  If you or a loved one is dealing with a diagnosis of early-onset dementia, consider visiting this website, run by a guy who was diagnosed at (yikes!) 55 years old.

Have you or a loved one recently been diagnosed with dementia, or with short-term memory loss?

Or do you suspect that you might have that condition, or that a loved one might have it?  Are you afraid of what such a diagnosis will mean for you and your family?

I've written a lot about dementia and Alzheimer's in their later stages, but I haven't spent a lot of time exploring issues that come about during the earliest of stages, which is the diagnosis.

And by diagnosis, let's be clear right off the bat:  There is no official, sure-fire, absolute diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.  Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, with dementia being the most common result of short-term memory loss.  And short-term memory loss doesn't necessarily develop into Alzheimer's, although it usually is the first rung on the dementia ladder.  Yet dementia can take years to develop into its most tragic expressions.  So if you or your loved one is facing a diagnosis of short-term memory loss, it's not exactly the end of the world as you know it.  At least, not yet.

Yet, at the same time, yeah - it's pretty close to the end of the world as you know it.  Sorry for being so blunt, but frankly, you already knew that, didn't you?  Besides, this is not a time for pussyfooting around the truth.  For one thing, if you are indeed on the road to dementia, you and your loved ones need to arm yourself with facts and a realistic assessment of your options, since things may rapidly change regarding your ability to conduct basic activities such as driving, making changes to your legal documents, and preparing your personal finances for the exceptionally high monetary costs of your future care.

However, just as this is not a time for ambivalence and rose-colored glasses, it's not a time for panic, either.  For one thing, panic rarely accomplishes anything, regardless of the situation.  And with regards to your diagnosis, there's little you can do medically to change what this diagnosis means.  There are no surgeries to consider, no pills to reverse the damage being done to your memory, no chemotherapy options like there might be with cancer, nor new diets to adopt like there might be with diabetes.  No known cures exist for short-term memory loss, dementia, or any of dementia's forms, like Alzheimer's.  So don't waste your time - and your money - dabbling with home remedies, natural supplements, or any of the other gimmicks out there being peddled to people who are desperate.

And don't feel guilty.  As far as we know, there's nothing you could have done medically to prevent dementia, so there's no use blaming yourself for having it.  And there's nothing you can can do medically right now to even minimize your dementia.  Dementia happens for reasons we're not sure of.  But one thing we know is that the length of time you have remaining as a fully-functioning adult will now be growing shorter by the day.  Your memory's functionality has maxed out through no fault of your own.  Your capabilities for reasoning, comprehension, logic, and alertness will be no greater than they are today.  Which means your mental resources need to be deployed smartly right now.  Not because you've suddenly begun your journey down what we call "the long good-by."  But because there's little point being morose about it.  At least, not yet.

Believe me, perhaps the time won't come for you, but the time will come for your family when the journey you have now begun will become a tortuous burden.  But that's still a long way off, and by then, you likely won't be aware of how bad you've become.  I've heard of one dementia patient who had three years between her diagnosis until her death, but most dementia patients I know have a journey of six to ten years - or more.  In your case, it's probably early days yet, and dementia is something for which you and your loved ones are going to have to pace yourselves.

For example, you still have time to travel, and work through a "bucket list," if you have one of those.  However, from now on, regardless of whether you're traveling to Paris, France, or the nearest grocery store, you cannot go alone.

Don't fight me on this one.  We found out my Dad had dementia when what should have been a half-hour trip to the grocery store turned into a several-hour ordeal, trying to track him down, calling the police and fire departments for word of any senior citizen in a car crash, driving around to all the grocery stores we used to frequent, only to have a kind-hearted employee from a store miles from our home call and put Dad on the line.  The employee had noticed Dad looked a bit disoriented in their store, and when she approached him to ask if he was OK, Dad managed to remember his home phone number (but not that he had a cell phone with him that he could have used).  That was a horrible evening for us - well, except for Dad, who didn't remember any of it, and wondered why I showed up at the grocery store to help bring him home.

Dad continued to drive for the next six years or so - but never, ever by himself.  We let him walk his faithful collie dog around the neighborhood for a few more months, but I was always a block behind them, making sure Dad found his way home.  After a while, Dad lost interest in walking the dog (a typical mark of dementia), and then not long after that, the pure-bred collie's advanced age required us to put him to sleep.  We'd show Dad photos of his beloved dog, and he said he remembered him, but we weren't always so sure he really did.

We allowed Dad to drive his minivan to familiar locations within about a one-mile radius of his long-time home.  And, frankly, considering how poorly so many people drive these days, his driving was certainly no worse than anybody else's.  His reaction times seemed spot-on, and for a long while, he needed few reminders about where he was going or how to get there.  He'd often complain that we wouldn't let him drive alone, but we'd simply say we wanted to keep him company.

What kept Dad's driving instincts so sharp, even as his other memory issues were in obvious decline, likely involved the years he spent driving around as a sales manager for a concrete construction supply company.  He drove to visit customers all over Texas and the Northeastern United States by himself and only ever had one accident - when he was driving all of us, when my brother and I were kids, down to Houston - and even then, the damage to our car didn't prevent us from driving out the trip in full and returning home.

However, if you or your loved one hasn't logged the extensive time behind the wheel that my Dad did, your driving days might be coming to an end fairly quickly.  And if that's the case, it's for your own good, as well as for the good of all the rest of us out on the open road.  After all, driving isn't just about you, but everybody else, too.

And about those bucket lists:  How many of those unfinished events and fun times will you remember next year?  In two years?  I understand the whole sense of accomplishment behind the bucket list thing, but frankly, trying to do things and visit places before you'll forget you've done them or been seems more a waste of time and money than a fulfillment of your life's dreams.  Right now, is what's important something you haven't yet prioritized?  How important are those things on your bucket list, if you haven't already done them?  Do you really need that sense of accomplishment before you forget all that you've accomplished?  Is the existential satisfaction really worth it?

After all, time is working against you here.  Remember?  You've only got a limited amount of time remaining for you to build memories - not for yourself, but for your loved ones!  If dementia takes as ugly a course as it does for most of its victims, your loved ones are going to have many awful things about your eventual condition seared into their own short-term memories of you.  Wouldn't you like to spend the quality time you've got left helping them cultivate happier, more positive remembrances of you?  Simple stuff, like the foods you cook well, or of the stories you tell, or the crafts you enjoy?  Not new stuff, but the same stuff that you don't need to still learn, and risk the frustration of not learning or experiencing as fully as you might otherwise desire?

It's the time with your loved ones that they'll likely remember the fondest.  It's who you were in the ordinary, every-day life that they knew you to live.  How you act in the present, in the familiar, in the real; not the artificial of vacations to places that are more exotic than natural.

Yes, there is the argument that the pursuit of a bucket list at this point would be an act of defiance in the face of dementia's impending doom.  And if you're independently wealthy, perhaps it doesn't matter what you spend your money on now.  But frankly, considering the many unknowns about dementia and dementia care, the wiser person would conserve their financial resources now, instead of spending them on trips you won't remember for much longer.

I'm not trying to be cruel here; just honest.

Granted, if your life up until now has been all about the pursuit of bucket-list-type things, then maybe I'm raining on your final parade.  But I have yet to talk with any loved ones of a dementia patient who reminisce about things that have happened recently.  They reminisce about the loved ones as they knew them "back in the day."

It's an ironic twist on the "short-term memory" condition, a state of mind which can seem so confounding.  Indeed, short-term doesn't just mean that you can't remember things for very long.  It's also that you can't remember things that happened only a short while ago.  And as dementia continues to take its toll, that "term" creeps ever longer, with your ability to remember the past extending not by seconds, or hours, or days, or months, but years.  Decades.

In fact, as long as I'm being blunt, let's go ahead and face more reality:  For better or worse, your family will eventually be able to identify the memory period of your life in which your brain is functioning, and it won't be the present-day.  One of the hospice nurses caring for my father told us that actually, at that point, the patient is mostly unaware that they have any sort of dementia, and I like to think that she is correct, for the patient's sake.  You see, dementia patients give many clues about the period of their former life in which they're now living; the job they may have had then, the home or city in which they used to live, the people who were still alive then.  With my Dad, we could track his decline by the homes he longed to be in.  He seemed fairly comfortable in his Texas home, where he'd lived for 30 years, for quite a while into his dementia journey.  Then suddenly, his memory seemed to completely skip the 13 years we'd lived in upstate New York.  It went back to an old address in Brooklyn, then to the address before that, and then even to the address where his family lived before he entered school.

But let's not get that far ahead of ourselves - or that far behind.  After all, if you're still in shock from receiving your recent diagnosis, you're likely struggling with identifying the things you need to get done before, ...well, they can't get done anymore.

Speaking of finances, in case you're now thinking of shifting all of your assets into somebody else's name, your lawyer may sign off on those changes, since you're still relatively "of sound mind."  But don't drag your feet, because nobody knows the point at which your lawyer might actually say you're mentally incapable of things like wills, financial reallocations, and property settlements.  If you're thinking of trying to hide your assets by placing them in other peoples' names, in case you need to go on Medicaid in the future; forget it.  When someone applies for Medicaid, the government goes back about seven years, and even longer, tracking the movement of your assets, and significant changes to your estate or financial portfolio will be nothing but red flags for them.

With the money that you have, instead of splurging on a bucket list, perhaps you should consider remodeling your home to make it handicapped-accessible.  If you've only lived in your current home for a short time - say, five years or less - then it might not make much difference if you decide to move out of it.  But the thing about short-term memory care is that the longest memories will last the longest, and staying put in a familiar home will benefit you and your family in the long run.  Although you might not have any mobility problems right now - and maybe not ever, memory loss can impact physical mobility, and for many dementia patients, keeping one's balance becomes a problem at some point.  So if you can afford it, widen your doorways to accommodate wheelchairs, and retrofit at least one bathroom with fixtures suitable for adults who need somebody to help them with bathing and attending to the toilet.  If your bedroom is upstairs, try to create a sleeping space downstairs now, so maybe you can develop some familiarity with it.  If your backyard isn't fenced in, fence it in, since dementia patients tend to wander.

Hey, even if being placed in a memory-care facility is in your future, that future is still likely several years away at the earliest.  That means you'll still need to enjoy your current environment as much as possible - yet as prudently as possible, too.

If you're a pack-rat, begin to de-clutter now.  Clutter will only confuse you later on, and possibly become dangerous trip hazards.  Save photos and keepsakes you frequently look at and enjoy; chances are they'll be the things your loved ones use to try and entertain you years from now.  Throw away items that hold bad memories for you.  Keep your current technology, and don't worry about buying new televisions or computers from now on, because you'll risk unnecessarily confusing yourself.  The idea is to develop as light, bright, easy, safe, and encouraging a physical environment as possible.

I hope you weren't reading this to find some cheerful nugget of comfort after your otherwise horrific diagnosis.  I'm sorry if I've further discouraged you by laying bare the reality you'll likely be facing.  But I've been there with my Dad, and with his sister.  There is no helpful way to positively spin the specter of dementia.  There's also no legitimate pathway to determining what dementia will have in store for you specifically, since dementia varies by as many degrees as their are individual people.  Some patients end up having a relatively peaceful journey through memory loss, while others... well, let's just say that there's enough heartbreak to go around.

Many end-of-life illnesses have a way of clarifying the aspects of life we most cherish, and these next few months and years of your journey through memory loss will undoubtedly be a clarifying experience - although, unfortunately, probably not for you.  You will likely become less and less aware of what is going on to you and around you, which as the hospice nurse told me, may be the one blessing in all this.  Meanwhile, your loved ones will be forced to assume more and more of your care, and there won't be anything you can do about it.  Stronger families, obviously, fare better during crises like these than dysfunctional or scattered families.  Your close friends, your faith community, and even your neighbors will likely play intimate roles that you will never see.

Yet through it all, our response to human tragedy both affirms our commitment to life, and our resolve to honor those who, for whatever reason, lack the ability to participate in it as fully as we would otherwise desire.  We effortlessly enjoy our human experience when things are fun, or happy, or easy.  But when life turns arduous, melancholy, and painful, we tend to show what we're really made of.

Maybe that's a challenge you and your family would prefer not to pursue!  But it's happened to you, and there's nothing you or anybody else can do to change it.

It's bleak, and confounding, and it seems so unfair.  I know.  It happened to my family and me, too.  And we're here today, on the other side of the dementia journeys we took with my Dad and my aunt.  And we're certainly not weaker for those experiences.  I think we still have questions, and we're still emotionally tired, but we did what we could with the resources we had, and I think we honored our loved ones well.

Hopefully your family will be able to say the same.

Ready or not, your journey through your long good-by has begun.  Let it be as life-changing as it can be.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Driving a Texting Driver Ban Misses Point

Ought there to be a law against it?

Last month, the Texas state House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing texting-while-driving (TWD).  The Lone Star State is one of only four remaining that don't specifically criminalize TWD, although distracted driving, a broader description of the activity in question, is already against the law.  As it currently stands, House Bill 62 makes using a phone while driving a misdemeanor offense, but questions remain regarding how such a measure could be fairly enforced in the real world.  Questions also remain regarding how eager the Texas Senate is to ratify the bill, since the House has already given them a similar opportunity three other times in previous sessions, to no avail.

Will this year be different for Texas?

The idea enjoys bipartisan support among politicians, because it's hard to ignore the dangers of cell phone use by drivers of a moving vehicle - even though many drivers engage in the activity multiple times every day.  Probably every time they get behind the wheel.  Cell phones have practically become an appendage for some users, and serious studies have found that addiction to cell phones is a real problem for many people.  The luxury of instant communication is no longer a luxury for those folks, but a necessity.  Or, so they think.

Usually, politically conservative legislators - especially in a conservative state like Texas - abhor laws designed to control behavior, especially "nanny state" laws that seem to pick on common activities and appear to interfere with an individual's right to self-determination.  Yet when it comes to TWD, a number of key Republican Texans support the notion that a law is necessary to try and curb rampant - and dangerous - cell phone use by drivers.

"Boy howdy - thar aughta be a law, dadgum it!"

Why a law?  Because not enough people voluntarily refrain from the practice.  And since so many people do it, it's hard to convince drivers to use the honor system and not use their phones while driving, as an altruistic gesture acknowledging public safety.  The broader well-being of our society can seem so ambiguous and existential when faced with the opportunity to call a client from your car, or check to see if your kids are home from school, or what your spousal unit wants for dinner.  Perhaps with a law - a law everybody is supposed to respect, of course - drivers will be encouraged to forgo the personal convenience of TWD, since nobody else is doing it either.

Um, yeah... like that will ever be reality, right?  Hey, business is all about exploiting opportunities, right?  If you view your time behind the wheel as lost productivity, then you're going to call that client, or track down that lost shipment, while cruising around town.  It's what good employees do, right?  If you're a responsible parent, you're going to check up on your kids on your way home from work, and if you're responsible for dinner tonight, you're gonna need to know what your loved ones would like to eat (after all, you shouldn't send and receive personal e-mails at work, right?).

The reasons people use their cell phones while they drive aren't bad... usually, at least.  But it seems that many people who decide to TWD forget that their primary purpose as a driver is to actually drive, and drive in as safe a manner as possible.

It's easy to spot the drivers who are texting - and even the ones so engrossed in an old-fashioned telephone conversation.  The several-thousand-ton contraption they're piloting down the roadway begins to weave within its lane, and then a little bit outside of its lane.  Their speed becomes erratic, often slowing down drastically, at least in terms of the pace of other vehicles around it.  In fairly close traffic, a phoner can quickly create a mini traffic jam, as other vehicles get trapped behind it, waiting their chance to dart around the slower vehicle. 

Sit at any traffic light, and watch to see how long it takes between the light turning green and the first car in line to move from its stopped position.  How many times have you been at a stoplight, only to have to wait through most of the green light for the driver in front of you to look up from their phone and realize that they've got the green light?  Some of us honk if we have to wait at a green light while a phoner uses up our patience, and then we get shot their middle finger when they decide to take advantage of the green light, like it's our fault that we might miss it.

Actually, it's amazing that so many important people are out on the roads, isn't it?  So many important people driving (without a chauffeur, like important people used to employ) and having to use their phones, meaning they don't have a personal assistant to follow up on all these important issues. 

Now, for the record, I rarely use my cell phone while I'm driving.  And by rarely, I mean usually only to call 911 if there is debris in the roadway (it's amazing how much junk litters our freeways in Dallas, falling off all the pickup trucks people own here).  I never answer my phone while driving.  And I think I've sent about five total texts when behind the wheel of my car - but those were only when I was parked, usually with the engine off, before I embarked on whatever journey I was about to take.

Yet my point isn't that the texting itself is the problem.  You see, using one's cell phone while driving can be a fairly safe practice, if there's hardly any traffic, or if your conversation consists of a couple of short sentences, or if you're not speeding.   And as far as TWD is concerned, we don't really need a law specifically banning it, because as I said, we already have laws against inattentive driving.

So what is the problem? The problem is our society's propensity for selfishness.  We each tend to view ourselves as being more important than others.  We don't say that out loud (usually) but we demonstrate that mentality through our actions; through what we do, and what we don't do.

Selfishness is a pernicious form of individualism that is exacerbated by our exploitation of the private automobile.  If you think about it, automobiles have become our own autonomous, insular pods, haven't they?  Our cars are cocoons of transportation, but also of entertainment, privacy, and isolation.  We turn our elaborate speaker systems up so loud, we can't hear the emergency vehicle's siren screaming and squawking at us from our rear bumper.  Even if our cell phone is turned off, if we have passengers in our pod, we get so engrossed in conversation that we have no idea what's going on outside of our glass-and-aluminum transportation device.  A device that's hurtling through space at 60mph - or more.

Witness that kid who was caught on camera, his testosterone-fueled dually pickup truck wandering about a wide Texas roadway, even traveling well within the lane of opposing traffic.  If recognizing such a dangerous scenario wasn't enough to convince that young stud that he was completely disconnected from his driving task, it would take the slaughter of 13 innocent senior citizens to prove it.

By then, saying "I'm sorry" fixes nothing.

That tragedy last week in the hills of central Texas may provide the impetus for the state's Senate to pass anti-texting legislation this time around, since public opinion is so aghast at the stunning loss of life.  Politicians hate passing up opportunities to look like they're actually fixing something.  But even if this bill passes, how many Texas drivers actually plan on abiding by it?  After all, stuff like that happens to other people, not to us.  This phone call I need to make is really important, and the risk it poses to somebody else who I've never met is really insignificant - at least to me.

And sure, maybe it is a risk you're willing to live with.

But can the rest of us?