Sometimes something happens that moves me into thinking about the fragility of things. Such as a first look in the Air and Space Museum, where one feels a jolt of amazement at the cobbled flimsiness of the aircraft that carried humans into the sky and beyond the atmosphere. Or the whispery thin inside of a cat's ear, where the most sensitive nerve cells collect signals far beyond any that can reach a human ear. Or the tiny, tiny stem cell which holds the blueprint for the most gigantic animal.
Or Dion Johnson, ex-football star, quadrapalegic, popular young reporter for WJLA-TV here in Washington, DC.
A high school athletic injury did not deter Dion from earning a college degree and landing a position at a network affiliate. The latest in technology enabled him to zip around town on a set of wheels, to type out his stories, to shop and play. No need for a personal assistant when one can buy so many wonderful products of robotics labs and computer programmers. Like Stephen Hawkings, he had achieved a cyborgian relationship with machine and used it to expand his existence. I became aware of Dion through my work at a disability affairs organization, and he wanted to tape a story about us.
Yesterday, Dion was seen by his neighbors rolling into a neighborhood park, just as on many other days. No one saw him after that. No one saw that he had taken a little shortcut through the park, one that would take him out of the publicly-traveled areas. No one saw that the wheels of his electric chair suddenly became mired in a pile of wood chips. No one saw that he discovered that he had no way to unmire the wheels of his chair, and that the stifling heat of an August day was bearing down upon him.
I wish that I could say this story ends happily, but Dion was not found by anyone until later in the day, when it was far too late to save him from heat stroke. My director and I have been in a sort of shock over the ease in which a little pile of organic matter so fully defeated the wonders of the latest in assistive technology, cutting short a promising life.
I suppose one could dredge up a few larger philosophical points here, but for me it is enough to simply tell the story so that you can draw them on your own.