So this is what it’s come to: I’m sitting in a meeting on Sunday afternoon when another attendee feels insulted, gets up and storms out. The door hadn’t even latched shut before I reached up and put my hands on either side of the folding chair in front of me, wondering what the chances were his wounded ego would turn to rage in the parking lot and send him back inside with a gun.

I have no doubt that, after the massacres last weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that we’re all a little on edge, and I hate it with every fiber of my being. We shouldn’t have to live in a world where every trip to the grocery store involves a threat assessment and an exit strategy as soon as we pull a buggy off the chain, but that’s where we are.

This is America, 2019. We can’t even talk about it without retreating to our respective corners and serving up more of the same venom and vitriol that I’m sure helped contribute to the killings. From the stupidity of false flag narratives to the insensitivity of remarks meant to advance or rebuff a gun control narrative, there’s no shared grief anymore. No commiseration over tragedy. Only the desire to be right. To win. And every time it devolves into name-calling and insults, it detracts from the big picture, which is this — some people went out in public on Saturday, never knowing it would be the last time they ever would.

Did the man who shielded his wife and child stop before walking into Walmart and stare at the sun for a few seconds, feeling its warmth on his face? Did the girl killed in Dayton listen to her favorite song on the way to the club? Was there a text from a guy on her phone? Had the father picked out a place to take his kid for dinner to celebrate a straight-A report card? How many of those killed spent their final moments on earth doing something so typically innocuous, so seemingly mundane, that it makes their ends all the more tragic?

Life on planet Earth comes with no guarantees, I realize. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is a mystery, but I find myself forgetting when the ebb and flow of simple living seems to sweep me along like the runaway current of a rain-swollen stream.

I get caught up in responsibilities and appointments and plans and seldom stop to take a few deep breaths, to smell the August air, thick and hot on my lungs ... to look around at the people in my life, the ones whose presence on a daily basis I so often take for granted ... to watch the waves of heat shimmering along the ribbons of blacktop through the streets of this place, my hometown ... to offer a smile and be given one in return, to linger a little longer in an embrace, to savor the melody of a treasured song, to chew a little slower and enjoy a meal, to scratch my dog behind the ear and feel his fur thick and cloying beneath my fingers ... to hold my kids just a little bit longer before they leave for school or lay down for the night.

So many things. So many little details that, when broken down into a minute-by-minute diagram of my day, seem meaningless and trivial. So many mundane and boring things, so many irritating and aggravating things. Altogether, those things add up to life, and I daresay the people who died last weekend would give whatever eternal rest they’ve found for just one more of those days.

One day to do it all over. One day to sit up and pay attention and take it all in. One day to show love and be loved, to take part in the human race.

One day.

For them … for the victims at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and at the Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi, and on the playground in Chicago, and all of the other victims who meet their end with unexpected abruptness ... there are no more days. No do-overs, no second chances.

Would they tell us, if they could, to seize the moment? To live our lives a little bit differently and not take it all for granted? Perhaps.

But really, we don’t need them to tell us those things. All we need to do is to pay attention, to sit up and shake off the haze of simply existing and truly live ... because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, not for a single one of us.

I thought long and hard about what to write for this column, and while a number of arguments come to mind, they’re rather pointless. All they do is contribute to the noise, and we’ve got more than enough of that to go around. Besides, given that these tragedies keep taking place, I don’t know if my thoughts would do any good anyway. Because clearly, none of us knows what the solution is, or have the willingness to attempt some, to keep people from dying.

Which is why, in my opinion, we can only focus on living. And maybe in so doing, we can be a little kinder, a little gentler, a little more understanding with those we know and those we don’t. With those with whom we agree and those we do not. Maybe we can stop reducing one another to tired and ridiculous socio-political tropes and see one another for what we all truly are: human beings with hearts and minds and hopes and dreams who deserve more, so much more, than to die on the floor of a Walmart or on the sidewalk of a nightclub district.

Steve Wildsmith was an editor and writer for The Daily Times for nearly 17 years; a recovering addict, he now works in media and marketing for Cornerstone of Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Blount County. Contact him at wildsmithsteve@gmail.com.

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