|No Traffic Lights|
|Issue: 81 Page No: 2 Updated: 02/04/2011 01:47 PM|
|Author:||Patrick R. Anderson|
No Traffic Lights
Carolyn and I split our residence between Cedar Key, Florida and Beech Mountain, North Carolina. Both communities are at the end of the road. No one can knock on our door at either place and say “we were just passing through and decided to drop in to see you.” No. No one passes through Cedar Key or Beech Mountain. You go to either place on purpose and depart on the same road that brought you in.
To get to Cedar Key you turn off of U.S. Hwy 19 at Otter Creek (yes, Otter Creek!) and drive southwest through the Gulf Hammock wilderness on State Road 24 until you finally cross the four bridges that dead end in our island community in the Gulf of Mexico. Ours is the first and oldest settlement on the West Coast of Florida, we say. Of course we do not count the shell mound cities the Calusa Indians built and inhabited around here for centuries prior to the arrival of us European types. About 600 people live in Cedar Key now. We have four churches, two banks, two lawyers, a K-12 school, world-class seafood, and a lot of quiet. Ours is a place of stunning sunrises and sunsets, eagles, ospreys, migratory parakeets and redwing blackbirds and multiple other fine feathered friends, playful porpoises, pelicans, and…no traffic lights. We are in no hurry, we are polite and tolerant and patient. We do not need a traffic light to tell us to stop or go or be cautious.
Somehow the lack of traffic lights has become my standard for measuring the quality of life. Neither Cedar Key nor Beech Mountain is cursed with a McDonalds or WalMart, the presence of either of which would qualify as a sign of a community going down the toilet, in our view. Our world is so peaceful and blessed we do not need a traffic light. I say the more traffic lights a community has the worse the quality of life, with zero being the optimum number. When they put up a traffic light, we’re gone I guess. Don’t even talk about a McDonalds or WalMart.
So when a 28-year-old son of one of our extended native families committed suicide last week in Cedar Key, I was overwhelmed. How could this be? We live in Paradise! This young man had had a troubled life in the Cedar Key fishbowl, for sure, and when the police came to arrest him this time for some relatively minor misbehavior, he turned his pistol to his own head and pulled the trigger. He just could not be taken away again and locked up. How terribly sad.
My banker told me that 12 people in Cedar Key have taken their own life in the past five years. I think that is a remarkably high number in proportion to our population, but perhaps I am just naïve and all communities, yours included, have this blight. I do not know the full stories of the other eleven, only that no demographic or other identifying factors seem to have been predictors of their self-inflicted deaths. Some people are so alone, so depressed, so hopeless that life is no longer worth living, even in Cedar Key.
I have also learned that a record number of people have visited our church’s food pantry this year, more than 50 families. My pastor told me that he has encountered some people who have built lean-to shelters nearby in the woods and are squatting there. Others have parked their dilapidated car or van in the scrub oak and palmetto hammock and live therein. I think of Grapes of Wrath.
Times are hard, even in a community without traffic lights. Raw statistics about unemployment rates and the cessation of unemployment compensation and home foreclosures do not tell the full stories of human suffering. Nor is an Edenic environment a sufficient balm for lost lives. Maybe we need some traffic lights. Not those that say “Stop” or “Caution” but ones that place caring people smack dab in the human traffic flow where we can say on behalf of Jesus, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden….and I will give you rest.” Maybe we need a blinking light to divert attention away from self-destructiveness and toward life.
Cedar Key and Beech Mountain are good places to live, but location alone is no guarantee of life itself, certainly not the abundant life spoken of by Jesus.
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Anderson, Patrick R.. "No Traffic Lights" ChristianEthicsToday.
The Christian Ethics Today Foundation. Winter 2011 (Issue 81 Page 2)