We all wait in line. It’s an inescapable element of human existence. And yet, the reasons we choose to queue up are limitless. You would think that, given our myriad options, and the press of time in the twenty-first century, we would make these decisions wisely. So, could someone please explain to me the mystery of why people would elect to camp out overnight to score a courtside seat to watch the Casey Anthony trial?
I hardly ever watch TV. There are so many other, very interesting things I can do with my life. The concept of TV news, reality shows on adrenalin, hairsprayed with hype, fall low on the list of productive activities. Nevertheless, there are those times when you’re stuck. I was in limbo for several hours at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, after dropping off Harrison for his summer adventures in a P-Chem research lab; the flight back to Colorado was delayed because the pilot had been circumnavigating the globe, having overshot Iowa. It’s easy to do. The wheat fields in Nebraska, with their lovely golden glow, must have made him sleepy; mesmerized, he just missed Iowa. And had to do it all over again. The long and short of which was that I had nothing to keep me busy other than to sit in a very small airport bar, drink Bloody Mary’s, read over my notes, and watch CNN.
Wait, pardon me. As you can see, I’m somewhat antiquated, if in the sense that I’m not up-to-the-minute regarding news shows. What I meant was HLN. I had to look that one up. Evidently, it’s an acronym for “Headline News”, the news show Formerly-Known-As CNN Headline News, or CNN2, because this tag provides the viewing public with snap shots of the horrible things some of we Americans are up to, sans legitimate, rational analysis. They do provide counseling sessions with Nancy Grace (she is a lawyer, you know), but I wouldn’t recommend them unless you enjoy engaging in masochism. At least, I think that’s what HLN stands for. At last check, it could also be the airport code for Helena, Montana, a marketing consortium in the UK entitled Highlands Loch Ness, or “Hot Little Number.” I’m sure they weren’t talking about Nancy Grace on that last one.
I’m sorry; that was a squirrel. My point is, why did people line up in Orlando to snag a seat for this trial? I’ve been to Orlando plenty of times, and have also waited in line, to have fun. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Space Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, those are all easily explainable. And then there is Peter Pan, supposedly the worst line of all. I haven’t figured out why this one is so popular, but have waited for it nonetheless. Ah yes, I do know why I wait. The essence of childhood, the fantasy of never growing up, never taking on responsibility, soaring over London on a starlit night. Besides, Disney is so gracious, they’ve added misters on really hot days.
Instead, Anthony onlookers waited in line to view the sordid details of the murder of a little girl who, unlike Peter Pan, cannot ever grow up, even if she had wished to do so. Some think that this urge to watch trials and reality show TV is grounded in perennial boredom. I believe there is something deeper involved, that the activity has to do with the pursuit of moral naturalism. As Americans, we have a solid belief in our Constitution and the legal system that underpins it. We are fascinated by it, and for those not in the profession, watching a movie about how the law works can provide enlightenment. I know I have been, ever since I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in sixth grade. It’s a great morality play; the story exposed me to the underside of humanity, sharpening my sensitivity to other’s viewpoints. I suspect that Anthony trial-watchers hoped to have their viewpoints of life-as-it-should-be-lived validated by the jury. And when there was no ending to the story, no answer to their questions, they were at first frustrated, and then distraught. If the meaning of our existence breaks down, not even necessarily through any action or fault of our own, we become aware of voids of meaninglessness, with devastating results. We end up similar to the muddled men in Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot”. The New York Times 1956 review of the play billed it as “an acrid cartoon of the story of mankind”, and that even through man’s experiences of “pathos, cruelty, comradeship. . .corruption [and] filth. . .”, there is still hope. When the jury denied the American public an answer in the Casey trial, failing to provide an objective rationale for the death of a child, the public reacted, understandably, as if a rug had been yanked from beneath our common feet. Our quest for morality was never fulfilled. And because we are subject to the Focusing Illusion, where “nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it,” we are lost without the answer.
It doesn’t have to be like this. There are multiple ways to occupy our lives, to wait in line for things of value. Things that provide essence, meaning or an opportunity to spend time together with people whom you care about, developing tighter bonds with people around us. Waiting for nourishment from the sky, via the United Nations World Food Programme, is obvious. Waiting for a FEMA trailer after a hurricane, is essential. We have no choice but to wait for a drivers’ license, if we wish to use public roads; there are situations when the wait is not self-imposed. Traffic jams come to mind.
Less crucial are the lines which we choose that sustain relationships. And yet, if we are fortunate to be fed and sheltered, shouldn’t it be a necessity to create memories and solidifying bonds with those we care about? Some of the best times have been spent waiting in line: tickets for a Rolling Stones concert, or more recently, the release of a new Harry Potter movie. The one that most stands out is the day when the four of us waited ten hours for the iPhone 3G. Silly, I suppose, but as the afternoon wore on into evening, and we sat on the floor of the Cherry Creek Mall, visiting amongst ourselves and our fellow techno-geeks (aka, “tuckers”,) we found that although we claimed to mark time for the slim little box that often makes fun of our every thought (mine still corrects just about everything I say,) it was a day of family bonding. In search of something which could be deemed meaningless, or at least unnecessary, in these busy days, we reconnected with each other. That’s reason enough for me.
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