Things to do in Reno when you’re dead

I could have been killed in a car wreck on I-395 a couple of days before the tsunami wiped out more than 150,000 lives on the other side of the planet. A truck in front of me swerved into a car in front of me. Suspended in my mind is the image of two vehicles mashed into one screeching mass of metal that careened off the road near the Reno Hilton. No one was seriously injured, thanks to the wormish speed of the holiday traffic.

Maybe you also narrowly avoided a pre-snow three-car pile-up or politely endured New Year’s tailgating by a snorting SUV on a fluffy-white, one-lane freeway.

We are the lucky ones. Survival provokes introspection, and the accident had me reevaluating my priorities.

If my body were hauled off to the morgue in the back of a REMSA ambulance today, what would be my family’s last memory? Was I kind or cranky? Did I listen or interrupt? Did I convey to my teens that I’m more worried about the mess in the kitchen than the chaos of growing up?

I stopped driving when the snow kicked in Thursday. My light, fuel-efficient car doesn’t double as a plow. I spent the weekend curled up in my toasty home, reading books and following news of the outside world.

Whether you watched TV reportage or read online media, the images were the same—bodies lined up in rows. Scarves over faces blocking the smell of death. Parents sobbing as bodies of children were buried in mass graves.

Then the real nightmare began. Thirst and no water. Hunger and no rice. No toilets. No shelter.

Perhaps it’s simplistic to pry meaning from senseless tragedy. It’s also a human impulse. We want to order the random, explain the inexplicable.

I’ve no psychological strategy for grappling with the magnitude of the tsunami’s destruction.

After initial deep sadness, I felt compelled to gripe about the Bush administration’s pathetic responses of $15 million, then $35 million in disaster relief aid. Contrast that, I fumed inwardly, to what we’re spending on the war in Iraq—about $148 billion, according to the National Priorities Project’s running tab at

I wanted to address kind-hearted Bush supporters who still believe we’re bringing freedom and democracy to oppressed Iraqis. Doesn’t it strike you as odd, I’d have asked, that the future of Iraqi children is worth so much, and the future of children in Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia is worth so little?

Why do you think that is?

Before I wrote the above tirade, I read New York Times columnist David Brooks, whose recent column likens humans to gnats and nature writer Henry David Thoreau to “a boy who has seen a war movie and thinks he has experienced the glory of combat.”

Brooks, a brighter conservative than most of the conservative commentators, opines that it’s wrong to turn the tsunami story into “yet another petty political spat as many tried, disgustingly, to do.”

At the last minute, I was spared the embarrassment of my political pettiness.

On the other hand, is it really so “disgusting” to examine our national priorities in the wake of a disaster that still threatens millions?

One Bradley Fighter purchased for our military could equate to $3 million in drinking water, food or medicine to tsunami survivors. The current U.S. pledge of $350 million in relief translates to the cost of slightly more than two days of fighting in Iraq.

Something to think about while the snow melts.

There’s a quote from President Dwight Eisenhower at “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”