While skimming Talking Points Memo this evening (trawling, I confess, for blogging material), I was drawn to this post. It’s just a one-line pointer to the gentle and caring obituary of a Florida cyclist named Neil Alan Smith, who was struck by a hit and run driver on September 12 and died six days later.
It’s worth a read. At 1200 words, it’s probably the longest thing that’s been written about the quiet, private man who washed dishes at a local crab restaurant for minimum wage plus a couple of beers. According to the reporter, Andrew Meacham, this effort was inspired by a piece of web trolling:
Shortly after the St. Petersburg Times announced Mr. Smith’s death on its website, a reader posted a comment stating the following: A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.
The comment, on this article, was deleted by the moderators. Judging by the remaining conversation, it was probably posted by someone with the charming handle of “liquorbutt”. The remainder of the thread is a mix of low-grade trolling (with visible lacunae where the worst comments have been deleted) and cyclist advocacy. For a newspaper comment thread, it’s not very toxic. I have seen much worse.‡.
I was reminded, contemplating the sketch of this man of whom I would never otherwise have heard, of a passage in Busman’s Honeymoon. In it, a police superintendent looks up the details of a case of cranial injury in Taylor’s Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence*. “A gentleman was thrown out of a chaise”, he reads, and then the narrative gives way to a brief and kindly speculation about the life and character of a nameless accident victim.
It’s worth pausing for these things. It’s worth caring.
Obviously, given the choice, I’d rather live in a world where people don’t get thrown against lampposts by hit and run drivers. Likewise, I’d rather live in one where people don’t troll comment threads, where college students don’t jump from bridges, and where people’s love lives are not streamed on the internet against their will.
Sadly, I am not given that choice. But I’m grateful, at least, that I live in one where a reporter is inspired to spend the time to research and write a thoughtful obituary for a dishwasher, where someone on a busy and contentious political site is touched enough to link to it, where I can regret the loss of people like Tyler Clementi and Neil Alan Smith, whose names I would never otherwise know.
‡ Here do I tip my hat at the moderators
* An earlier edition than the one I have (the twelfth)†; I trawled mine in vain for the passage in question, but it has been replaced by the story of an eight year old boy and a half-brick.
† Taylor’s is the reason for our household rule that children may only read books they can reach. It’s stored on the top shelf, because the photographs and descriptions are fairly upsetting.