Monday, July 04, 2005

Shoulder-high we bring you home....

One facet of working at a large operation like a grocery store that is open twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-three days a year, that I've only occasionally noticed is that there are large numbers of my fellow employees whom I not only do not know by name, but nor even by sight. My day is always over by three in the afternoon, and there are quite a few employees who never come in earlier than that. They're not just faces in a crowd, or names I occasionally hear bandied about; they're complete strangers of whose existence I am entirely unaware -- in my own workplace.

Today I learned the name of one of these coworkers, on the occasion of his death. He was eighteen years old and worked in our parking lot, pushing carts and helping customers load their groceries. He died in a skateboarding mishap. His mother, alas, is also one of my coworkers, one whom I do know although not well. A very nice lady, seemingly well-liked by those with whom she works closest. One of too many mothers who don't remotely deserve to see their sons go before them, and who doesn't remotely deserve to have to spend the rest of her days with the Fourth of July being a painful reminder of what once was.

There have been a lot of sad events at The Store over the last year or more. I suppose this is inevitable when you have close to five hundred people working together in a single business, but still, it sometimes seems -- as it did today -- that every time we get done dealing with the last cause for grief, we're all suddenly required to suit up for the next one.

But still, we do it anyway, because we have no choice, and it's the only way to show our humanity in moments of sadness like this. I wish it weren't the case that the two things that bring out the best in humans seem to be Death and Love, but that's as impossible a wish as commanding the sun not to rise.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

-- A. E. Housman

I don't know if my fallen co-worker was an athlete, but he did die young, and he shouldn't have.

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