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Friday, January 06, 2006


The Last Note You Write

A joke:

"I've got good news and bad news."

"What's the good news?"

"A limo full of lawyers crashed through a guard rail and into the sea. There were no survivors."

"My Lord! What's the bad news?"

"There was an empty seat."

That tasteless bit of humor popped into my head tonight when I considered the news coverage of tragic death of the coal miners in West Virginia. So much has been made about the safety violations, the late-night mis-reporting, and the speed of the rescue attempt that I wonder if perhaps something important has been lost.

The miners themselves knew that they were dying. Reportedly, a handful had the wherewithal and presence of mind to jot a note to leave behind.

"Tell all I'll see them on the other side," read the note found with the body of 51-year-old mine foreman Martin Toler Jr. "It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep. I love you Jr."

It struck me when I read that, in his finest hour, my father might have written that. He grew up poor in the hills of Tennessee, with little more than his family and his faith. Faced with his end, he might have sought to comfort that family, hiding whatever fear or pain he felt, while reminding them of the comfort of his religion.

As for the lawyer joke... well, don't get me wrong. Safety violations and all the rest have to be looked at; blame must be assigned, compensation fought over, and oversights corrected. Lawyers will be involved in both sides, doing their best for their clients. They are necessary... well, "evils", I guess, though "tools" would be more accurate.

But I do have to wonder: if a limo full of lawyers did go through a guard rail, and all the air leaked out except a small pocket, and then the air in that pocket started going bad... what kind of notes do you think those lawyers would write? For that matter, what sort of note would you write, if you knew it was your last?

Lessons will be learned from this tragedy... but I hope that the most important lesson, the one taught by Marin Toler Jr., will not be forgotten.

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