Kill or Be Killed


Danny says, “So I guess the way things are today is kill or be killed.”

His tone like someone saying, “And yes, I’ll have coffee with that.”

He’s not throwing a rock on a Libyan street, planting a mine in the Afghan dust, starving slowly on a grey Chicago Boulevard, or even being told to sit down and shut up in Madison Wisconsin. He sells cars. There are two dealers in town. And the only way he can get customers is to take them from the other guy. What he really needs to do is close the other guy down. He needs to do this to survive.

He’s not complaining. Asking no one for pity. A funny, good guy in his fifties. Long solid marriage. Health. Blessed to have kids. He’s worked for every dollar. If you asked him about his politics, which I never have, he’d probably tell you he was conservative, but the question wouldn’t really interest him. Because so many larger questions loom like a cloud of orange acidic dust raining down upon a wasteland of broken American dreams.

Why are all but such a thin sliver of a few, struggling to survive?

It just wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Lori writes back, “I’m O.K. But I’m like most of us, living on fumes.” Lori is a published author. One who has walked alongside more than one giant of our times. But these days Lori is living on fumes.

It just wasn’t supposed to be this way.

In a billion tiny moments, the struggle now not to thrive but to survive plays out. Chicago is hit by a massive blizzard. My three neighbors start shoveling out the alley that runs behind our houses. I’m not there. But when I get there I see that they have shoveled all the snow into my yard. Blocking my, access to the alley. Confronting them all with “Why would you do that?” The first answer I get back is; “Well, we had to have somewhere to put the snow. Shoveling out the alley was really hard!”

So I ratchet up the discussion. One guy gets it. He says, “I wasn’t thinking, I’m sorry.” Which gives me hope cause now the issue with him is closed. Sometimes I don’t think either.

The second neighbor says, “I was thinking about my kids. And was mad at my husband because he wasn’t helping.”

And the third neighbor doesn’t even see the problem.

Livin on fumes.

Tim writes and says, “There are certain words I’m just going to have to take out of my vocabulary.’ Words like ‘retirement.’ As if the need to even use the word is gone.

Sarah stands up in church and asks for a prayer because she’s a teacher, under attack. In one of the richest school districts in the country. The district has no money problems. But their boss is up for a bigger job. So he has to show he’s raising high today’s most popular smokescreen, ‘the deficit.’ Got to make those budget cuts. Her boss has got to show that he can cut budgets with the best of them. Even if there’s no real need.

Sarah’s world gone sideways. Because the one thing Sarah really doesn’t know how to do is defend why she’s a teacher. “The thing I really can’t understand,” she says like she just lost something but she’s not sure what it is, “Is why they’re attacking our level of education? They’re telling us we’re not very smart. I’ve got a masters degree and I’m almost done with a second one.” And the real question, ‘Why she even needs to defend herself?’ goes missing.

A million tiny pinpricks of kill or be killed.

So you look for a road. Some way out of this descending cloud of just surviving.

Something that can take you to the lost substance of why you’re here. A way to leave this place better than you found it. Something to lift you above “kill or be kiiled.”

You look for a road. Maybe that road is a wild clear stream under an endless blue sky where the salmon run wild. Maybe it’s a room where something you did our said changed something. Helped someone. Maybe you made something. Cleaned something. Took care of something. Maybe your road is the freeing power that comes with the revelation that none of this is really yours, the relief of knowing that you’re really not the center of it all. Maybe your road comes with forgiveness.

As many different kinds of roads as there are people.

Your road more important now than ever. When it’s all about kill or be killed.

You find a road.

Maybe a road that goes right by your home.

2 Responses to “Kill or Be Killed”

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    You don’t need to be a used car salesman or a gas station attendant to know that “these days” everybody on “the road” is “running on empty.” Whether I write these words “for a dancer” or “for everyman,” we are living “under the falling sky” that is also a “sky blue and black.” Perhaps we are all “late for the sky,” but we will know for certain when we come to the place where “the road and the sky” collide….”before the deluge.”
    Paul Haider, Chicago
    P.S. I am looking forward to the Jackson Browne concert in a month, but I don’t expect him to do a cover of “Lake Shore Drive.”

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger,
    Most people I know are living on fumes. They live in constant fear of losing their jobs and then losing what little they still have. They work hard, they are not lazy they are just unfortunate to be near the bottom of the chain – exposed and vulnerable. A few I know have frequent anxiety attacks because of the financial burden they live with. I agree, it was not supposed to be this way – we have finally arrived to two camps, the haves and the have nots.

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