Rolling on my bicycle through bucolic Wisconsin countryside on a spectacular June day, all felt well, secure, and settled. The undulating lanes meandered past picture-perfect family farms; around gentle bends stands of leafy shade trees gave way to valley vistas. Drivers of occasional cars raised two fingers from the steering wheel in typical country-lane salute. Tidy white clouds dotted a blue sky that perfectly augmented the crisp green fields.
Then kablam, hiss, and I pulled to the side of the road with a flat front tire. No problem; I carry extra tubes. Quickly I saw that the tire itself had ripped open. Big problem. We were nine miles from the nearest bike shop. The plan was for my wife to ride there and back with a new tire, while I waited by the side of the road.
Sitting on a corner of a freshly mowed yard my thoughts turned to Syria, another place with beautiful country and family farms. Syria is a place of barbarity and slaughter; Southern Wisconsin decidedly is not. What tips the balance between slaughter and security, sanity and madness? How do we preserve the precious blessings we have and avoid, for generations to come, the horror that others endure?
Stranded by the side of that peaceful lane, gazing out on fields of prosperity, I at once felt thankful and alarmed. I was grateful only to have something as trivial as a busted bike tire chief among my immediate concerns, and haunted to imagine how the scene before me might appear were it the battleground of warring factions who cared not a whit for the toll of suffering they extracted from innocents.
In the middle of my muse a woman with her dog strolled over from a nearby farmhouse. "Everything OK?" she asked. "Need help?"
When I told her my wife had ridden off to the nearest town, she immediately offered to take me there. "Otherwise you'll be sitting here for hours!" she said.
In the car, we chatted about local life, and I asked her what she does for work. "I'm a deputy sheriff," she offered. I asked her about local crime.
"Thefts, scams, and drugs," she replied. "So many people have lost work, and they're increasingly desperate. We've had three heroin deaths recently, and we're going after the people who sold the drugs. Crime definitely is going up as people run out of money."
As she spoke, besides nature's emerald veneer I saw a sad narrative--of shuttered factories, closed shops, foreclosed farms, and broken dreams. Not to overstate the case, I saw the long slippery slope, which becomes a society's undoing if it slides down unchecked.
Of course, we are nowhere near such a catastrophe. As I spoke to my new deputy sheriff friend, we shook our heads and shared the concern that as a society we can ill afford any step that moves us in that direction.
"The only good news is that an uptick in crime brings me job security!" she quipped. As for me, I shared with her the deep satisfaction my colleagues and I derive serving an organization that helps people who are in hard straits.
I retrieved my new tire; she drove me back to my bike; my wife and I met up and continued our long and luscious ride. It was good to come back to work this morning, and continue the business of maintaining a safety net that, with everyone's help, can check the slide to despair.