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The Way of Things MAG
Get out of my store, ya' damn hippie!" the old man screamed at James, glaring at the young man before him. The shopkeeper's stare was filled with hatred for the new ideas that James represented.
James calmly maintained eye contact. "It's my constitutional right to purchase goods and services from this store," James said.
"And I have the right to refuse service to a worthless punk! Leave before I call Sheriff Hamby." A sadistic grin crept across the shop-owner's face. "And we all know what the sheriff thinks of you damn radicals."
James wanted to continue arguing with the old man. If he could prove to this one person that the ways of peace were just, then he would have done his part in improving the world
"Yes sir, I'm obliged that you didn't call the fascists. I'll be going now." James turned and pulled up the hood on his hemp sweatshirt and left the smug shopkeeper at his counter.
The moment that the young man's feet stepped out of the doorway and hit the cold pavement, memories came flooding back. His childhood had been lonely, and he compensated for a lack of friends and what his parents called "social skills" by trying to be academically successful. And James excelled at succeeding as much as he completely ignored the avenues of friendship and socialization.
James's social conscience and personal beliefs didn't begin blooming until his sophomore year of high school. As a freshman he had befriended an amateur Renaissance man named Morris who was three years older. That summer, James became closer to Morris and dabbled in pacifism and theology. He and James would discuss the ways of peace and religion frequently; it became almost a hobby. Morris's influence was an integral part of James's interest in the ways of peace.
James's search for social, as well as spiritual, peace led him to the local Quaker meeting house, where he met a plethora of individuals who shared his desire for peace and knowledge. There James felt accepted and in tune with himself. He was happy.
As James ambled down the sidewalk, he was stopped by the inevitable "Don't Walk" signal. James reached over and pressed the button beneath the traffic light, knowing that it never worked but hoping that he might somehow make it change.
As he executed this futile gesture, he began to notice the cars idling at the light. The occupants of one car held his attention. The man at the wheel had a grin so wide, a twinkle in his eye so bright, and a corncob pipe so large that he put Ward Cleaver to shame as the image of the perfect American father. The woman to his right was blond, beautiful and had a smile brimming with such happiness it was a wonder her husband wasn't prevented from driving due to the glare. The final passenger was an infant. Innocence and wonder shown from his face. It was obvious they were living the good life.
Calmed by this display of inward tranquility, James turned right, not wishing to wait for the light. The vivid tableau had brought his thoughts to his family. His parents had been hard-working people of the blue-collar variety. Despite their different beliefs, they cared for James as much as he let them. He was thankful for their contribution to his personality. I should give them a call, he mused. I haven't seen them since they bailed me out of jail after that rally in New York.
The sound of steel and rubber crashing put James's thoughts on hold. He rounded the corner and was confronted with a hideous sight.
The car of the family he had just seen lay before him. Their vehicle had collided with a tractor trailer. James ran to help as a crowd of onlookers violated the sanctity of the dead and dying by watching with amazement. He turned to them in anger and bellowed, "Either help or leave!" When the entire group of onlookers, save one woman, began shuffling away, the young man added, "Fine, it's on your conscience, not mine!"
After ordering the woman to call an ambulance, James went to work sifting through the accident to look for survivors. He noticed the driver of the truck lying limp in front of his wheel. James ran to him and checked his pulse. The driver was badly bruised, but would live.
James found the mother by an oak tree on the side of the road. He ran to check her vitals but already knew she was dead. She had gone through the windshield and broken her neck upon hitting the tree.
Her husband's body was a few yards away. James took a look and instantly presumed he was dead. The man had also gone through the windshield, and had a large shard of glass in his neck. James did not bother to check for a pulse.
It was then that James began searching for the infant. It had occurred to him after a fruitless search of the surrounding area that the child might have remained inside the car in its car seat during the collision. A glance at the back seat confirmed this suspicion.
A hushed growl of agony erupted from behind him, drawing his attention away from the baby. It sounded as if someone was trying to scream but was being muffled.
James turned to see the cries emanating from the man, father and husband that he was, writhing in agony on the gravel. He had misjudged the man's condition but felt that, inevitably, he would soon be right.
James ran to the dying man and held him in his arms. The man convulsed in his grasp. Looking into his eyes, James could tell that there were a million words the man wanted to utter, a million sins he felt the need to confess. The more he tried to sputter out these deathbed admissions, the more blood he lost through the gash in his neck. Eventually the man had either lost enough blood or felt that his conscience was clear enough to die. A blank look swept his face, and he was gone.
James laid the man's body on the gravel. He sat cross-legged among the bodies and the wreckage, waiting for the life-saving ambulance to arrive, with the "oppressive fascist cops" in tow.
That afternoon, sitting amid the carnage and destruction, was the day that James realized the glory of peace. As he recalled the dying moments of the man, James realized the universal truth in those last moments. At first the patriarch was with his family, pleased with the simplicity of his existence. Minutes later, he was frantically dying. But then, in the end, peace conquered his body. In the end, peace always overtakes us, he realized. Sometimes it doesn't happen until death. James took a sweeping glance at his surroundings, feeling absent of terror or disgust.
As James heard the sirens approaching, he looked at the image of a family torn apart. Maybe I should call my parents, he thought. I haven't seen them since they bailed me out of jail after that rally. We've got so much to catch up on. Hell, maybe I should even contact that strange older brother of mine. Maybe I can spread the ways of peace to all of them. God knows they deserve it.
With that, he approached the coming emergency vehicles to recount his tale of the cursed and blessed events of the day.