Alaska Notebook: May this young man stay off the wayward bus

July 18, 2013 

Make it long, rich ride to your funeral, son

An elderly neighbor died recently. Saturday morning, I took the bus downtown for the funeral. The bus was quiet as I became lost in memories of a man who lived a rich life.

Two or three stops into the trip, a group of young men got on the bus. A couple of them sat down in front of me, the others stood nearby. One of the sitting, a short, stocky man, pulled out his cell phone and dialed a call. I paid no attention until he said loudly "Yeah, I'd rather come talk to you than have a warrant out for my arrest." After the person receiving the call responded, the young man continued "I'm dressed in shorts, a blue t-shirt, and a blue hat so that's how you will recognize me. I will be there soon." He didn't add he was carrying a basketball.

After the young man hung up, he began chatting with the guys who arrived on the bus with him. It wasn't clear if they were friends or had met him waiting for the bus. The young man told the others he had a spat with a woman the night before, and she had gone to the police to file a domestic violence complaint. The young man insisted he did not strike the woman and said "Look what she did to me," offering his badly-scratched left arm as evidence. He also claimed she damaged his face; damage was not apparent. Just before I left the bus, the young man defiantly announced "If I am going to jail, it should be for something I did, not something I didn't do."

Once off the bus, I started walking toward the church where the funeral would be held but wandered several blocks from the direct route. After making a correction, I passed the bus station - and saw the young man sitting on a bench, telling his story to a tall, well-built police officer. The young guy had placed the basketball on the bench and was gesticulating furiously with both hands.

A funeral is a time for reflection. The man who died led an exemplary life. He deserved the mourners' admiration and affection and received it. But I could not stop thinking about the young man on the bus. What happened to him? Did the cop send him home? Arrest him? The man sounded as if he had previous experience with the police. He appeared to be under 30 and should have a long life ahead of him. How much of his life will be devoted to conversations with policemen?

The man who died served in the military at the end of World War II. The war taught him -- as it has taught other veterans -- life is a gift, every day you wake up is a miracle. I hope the young man on the bus learns that without a war -- or a stint in jail -- providing the instruction.

-- Michael Carey

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