Object Lesson




It’s a fact that is both obvious and surprising, serious and ironic. The places we are most endangered are the places that feel most like home. Most people know that cars are the biggest cause of fatal injuries in the U.S. This doesn’t sound unusual at all until you realize that means YOUR car, that cozy refuge with its six cup holders, with your CD collection clipped to the sun visor and where the Cheerios that rolled out of the booster seat have stuck to the new floor mats. The next most deadly or injurious environment that Americans must navigate is home sweet home. About 20 percent of all serious accidents take place in the building where you wear pajamas, read the morning paper, feed the cat and then nap on the couch. And that was pretty much the pattern I was following on New Years Day when I joined the statistical ranks of those who fit the third leading cause of home accidents. — “cut/pierce.” (The top two are “fall” and “struck by/against,” according to the U.S. Home Safety Council.) I was about to heat a can of soup when the Corningware pan I was grabbing slipped from my left hand. Instinctively that hand swooped down to rescue the pan. The pan shattered on the countertop just as my hand arrived to save it. A spear-shaped shard plunged into my palm. Suddenly there was a lot of red stuff everywhere. We dashed me in grubby clothes to the Concord Hospital Emergency Room, leaving the kitchen looking like a bloody crime scene. Seven ER stitches later and after some Day Center microsurgery to repair a cut nerve, I’m on the mend, typing this essay with one good hand and one finger that emerges from a gauzy cast. I’m OK (though I’ll never look at Corningware the same way) and home is still sweet. I’m just reminded that no matter how secure you feel, how removed from the hot spots of global violence, crime and the wrath of nature, you are never really completely safe from harm. And that’s OK. We can be safety conscious, but no need to get delusional. The world is a complex and treacherous place. Civilization — that man-made order that keeps us from all attacking one another all the time — was itself established by bloody conflicts and worldwide wars. The universe, as beautiful as it looks through the Hubble telescope, is a fantastically hostile environment — at least as far as life is concerned. So mere danger is really a privilege. It’s like the noblesse oblige of sentient creatures. If you have a mind and a body that fear accidental injury, you belong to a galactic elite. And if you live in a warm home with food and family and a great hospital within an easy drive, you are, in a word, blessed — no matter what happens. My itchy, awful cast comes off later today and I’ll finally be able to type with all my fingers, but I wrote this Editor’s Note with it on — just to remind myself of that fact.

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