It was a week for those who mourn the human condition, and we didn’t even have to wait for T. S. Elliot’s April.
The nine-year-old girl in Florida had lain dead for three weeks across the street from the place she’d lived with her grandparents and father and could not be found. There were massive searches with volunteers, blood hounds, cadaver dogs, helicopters, but all to no avail until a registered pervert told authorities where to look—across the street.
The impotence of constituted authority seemed to make the crime that much worse, even as it had in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, where police looked for a supposed hijacked car taken by an escaped prisoner for 15 hours only to discover it had never left the garage where the hijacking took place. It gave the escapee 15 hours in which to travel unmolested, allegedly to kill again, until finally brought to bay by a widow reading from a religious tract.
It took days for the media and authorities to unravel the facts of the Atlanta escape, the sum of which made both the county sheriff’s office and the city police appear candidates for a late night comedy.
It was a period during which the mighty arm of congressional inquiry summoned the mysteriously mightier arms of major league baseball to inquire about the use of steroids and illegal growth hormones. A day of testimony and dissembling revealed a suspicion that management would rather not know too much about the dressing room, and that penalties for law breaking were subject to collective bargaining.
As in the Citrus County, Florida, child slaying and the Atlanta courthouse mayhem, the congressional peek into cream and clear raised more questions than it answered. Sports pages were left to ponder how many asterisks a record book might be required to contain. The scribes stopped short of the obvious: a separate Hall of Baseball inFame, to be situated in the hometown of say a Wyeth, a Merck, or Eli Lilly, with perhaps the drug company paying for the privilege of having its name on the edifice, as is done now in sports stadia nationwide. The heck with Cooperstown.
Reeling from these assaults on the human ethos, we were left to enter the weekend faced with the imponderable. As March Madness pervaded the TV screen, and college basketball players plied their frenetic skills, Congress returned miraculously to work to unravel that greatest of mysteries: what is life? Or more exactly, when is it over? And the name, Terri Schiavo, echoed under the Capitol dome. Should her feeding tube be replaced? State courts had decreed her husband’s wishes should take precedence over those of her parents and the tube was removed on Friday. Led by conservative Republicans, Congress moved to undo the state’s jurisdiction, to somehow force the issue into the federal arena. President Bush returned early from Texas to be on hand to sign such a measure into law. An unseemly seesaw struggle was beginning: parents pleading for the public to call their congressmen; the husband insisting Congress was intruding onto a private terrain.
All the while, video of Mrs. Schiavo played across the screen, at times a seemingly sentient woman, apparently responding to external human presence. Apparently. But then, who knows for certain? A people who cannot agree on life’s beginning were now engaged in debating when and how it should end. And what the individual herself would wish.
Amid the confusion there seems one thing agreed upon. Without further sustenance, Terri Schiavo could live until, say, April. Elliot’s cruelest month.