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Thursday, February 27, 2003

Briefly...

Cold rain may be the most miserable weather of all. It's neither destructive nor does it have that spring-rain musk smell that makes you think of summers to come. It's not a summer storm that gives way to a cool, deck-sitting evening. It's cold rain, that soaks you to your skin, lays your hair in your face, and makes your fingers and toes numb. It's mocking misery on top of everything else.

That rain is falling here and didn't help to knock down the flames of a house fire in an old, poor neighborhood in the town where I live. It fell on firefighters, police officers, the media, and the family members of the two elderly people who died inside.

I was just getting over the familiar sound of a family member who just learned the news. It sounds like the squeal of tires, a hastily opened car door, a halting scream, then sickening silence. I was just getting over that sound when I saw a woman in a hooded sweatshirt walking up the middle of the road. She had no umbrella and she was holding herself like a three-year old might.

"He was my uncle," she said to me, unsolicited. That's usually the signal to a media guy like myself that an interview is a possibility. I waited and held my umbrella over her head. "He was old, he had diabetes. He lost his legs. My momma--his sister--doesn't know yet," she said.

Just then Momma rolled up in a car. She had on a sweatshirt with no hood. She pulled it up over her head. She looked confused and about 76. Her son was holding onto her arm. He gave me a wary look that said "fucking vulture" but said nothing. He looked at the burned house and dropped his head.

At that point I had two choices: Ask for an interview or walk away. I chose neither.

I held my umbrella over the old lady's head while she looked at the house. She didn't seem to get it. What her two adult children understood, the old lady did not. She stood there for five minutes, not saying much. I held the umbrella. Eventually she turned around and started walking back to the car. Her son looked at me, mouthed the words "thank you," and walked his mother back to where it was dry.

Life is full of choices. Sometimes it feels good to create a choice you wouldn't normally consider.

In the middle of miserable rain, no media interview will ever convey to the viewing public what a grieving family feels. You sort of have to be there to tell the tears from the raindrops.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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