Today is Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Another one about Hwy, 109

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"There was a bad wreck on 109 yesterday."

It's one of those sentences that, even though it shouldn't, kind of loses its impact after you've heard it over and over and over again, like "and there was another terrorist attack in the Middle East on Tuesday" or "last night, Donald Trump said something no viable presidential candidate in the history of our nation would've gotten away with."

It shouldn't happen, but it does. You grow numb to it. There was a bad wreck on 109, and the sky is blue. At this point, as bad as it sounds, so long as no one you know or love was involved in the wreck, it's little more than another tragedy ripped from the headlines.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's because I work in a newsroom. Maybe it's because I've seen it printed in this very newspaper more times than I care to count. Maybe it's because, in many instances, I've been the guy who writes up the obituary. Deep down, I hope that's the case. I hope I'm the only one who feels numb. If it's just me, then I can act on it. I can remind myself that this collection of accidents on 109 is more than words on a page. I can remind myself that people I know and care about travel on 109, too.

I can remind myself of one word - one word that, as best I can tell, isn't even a real word. At least, it's not real in the sense that you'll find it in a dictionary. No, this word seems to have been born of the Internet, particularly a Tumblr blog known as "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows."

sonder (noun) - the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own - populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness.

Essentially, the definition continues, everyone is "in the midst of an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you'll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk."

Let that sink in. It's a sentiment I believe is certainly deserving of its own word. And it's one we would do well to keep in mind when numbness and indifference toward things like accidents on Highway 109 begin to creep in.

And when the numbness subsides, and the stinging reality of what's happening on an almost daily basis on Highway 109 really sets in, you're left with one question: Why is so very little being done about it? Certainly, if people were getting shot multiple times each week, some legislators - not ours, but some - would be shouting from the rooftops. If there was an endless stream of gay men and women filling the courthouse for marriage licenses, some lawmakers would be up in arms. But those are both "if' scenarios. This is really happening and, let's face it; there seems to be no end in sight.

Random passersby with children, with spouses, with families, with lives as vivid and complex as our own - populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness - are being killed or having their life stories irreparably altered by a situation that can be helped.

And everyone with the actual power to do anything about it seems to be preoccupied with rallying against causes that have had no impact on our daily lives, more concerned with scoring political points than doing their jobs. And that's not just a knock against state lawmakers. No, it goes all the way to the federal government. Grandstanding and partisan politics in our nation's capital repeatedly stalled transportation funding up until late last year, effectively tying the hands of state-level transportation departments with the actual ability to act and make changes. In the case of Highway 109 and likely on other dangerous stretches of road from coast to coast, it has undoubtedly cost lives.

I will not allow myself to become numb to that fact, and if I feel that numbness creeping in, I'll think of that one word. Sonder. And I'll repeat it. Sonder. And I'll keep repeating it, all the way into the voting booth.

News Editor Brian Harville may be contacted at

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accident, Brian Harville, column, crash, editorial, fatal, government, Hwy. 109, opinion, politics, safety, TDOT, wrecks
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