This is an old story some of you may have heard before. It begins in the town of Cootiesberg in the state of Forgotonia. I was reminded during a recent cross country trip during which I drove on several four-lane highways which paralleled, roughly, the various interstate highways. These four-lanes over much of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, are a nice way to travel, as they avoid the crowded high-speed truck traffic of the interstates. We did come in to Des Moines on Interstate 80 and I thought many people were insane. I actually saw their rear wheels slipping, sliding and hydroplaning during some heavy rain showers. By comparison, the four-lane state and national highways are so empty of traffic it almost seems ridiculous that such money should have been spent for these roads.
Well, a young man grew up in Cootiesberg, one of those oblongated, conglomerated township towns that never fit the pattern for incorporation, fair representation, its own school district, and many other things. But they did have RFD, by golly. That's Rural Federal Delivery of the mail. The only requirement was that you had to buy and maintain your own mailbox and you had to place it on the proper side of the road. Which, for the young man in our story, meant crossing the road every day to get his family's mail. And that was fine. All the time he was growing up, if two or three cars passed in a row, that was a rush hour. You were unlikely to see another vehicle for a whole hour or more. Sometimes that was problematical, as when you missed the school bus and had to walk the long two-hour walk home. You could try to hitch a ride, but usually, in the mid-afternoon, the only car you'd see was driven by a funny-looking guy who'd wave in a friendly manner but not stop to pick you up. And he was sitting on the wrong side of the front seat, steering with his left hand. That was the mail man.
Years passed and our young man left home, traveled far and wide, spent some time in college, but never quite found his true calling in life. Not to mention getting ahead. At the age of 29 he finally returned home to live with his aging parents for a while. The parents rather graciously took him in, as they had taken in many misfits for various lengths of time over the years. They were unusual people that way.
Every day the young man had to cross the road to get the mail. The difference now: the old two-lane country road had become a four-lane highway with high-speed traffic. Not all day long, but during a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon especially. And, unfortunately, including mail delivery time.
One day while crossing the road to get the mail our young man was hit by a truck and terribly injured. Nothing remained of him but a torso and a head, but he was saved by prompt modern ambulance and hospital care. Little by little he learned to use a wheelchair and his prosthetic limbs. Amazingly enough, as occurs so often in these cases, he was not depressed, but rather felt that God had saved him for a special purpose in life. Every moment of his life was filled with purpose. He wrote, he spoke to many via the phone and computers. Every day he felt happy to be alive. He was even beginning to get ahead, as some publications were paying money for his stories and other contributions.
Alas, the little town of Cootiesberg in the state of Forgotonia, still stuck to its old RFD ways, despite people getting clipped by cars and trucks while trying to cross the increasingly busy four-lanes while trying to get their mail and newspapers. And, terrible but true, our young man once again became a victim of the terrible highway, this time losing his torso. Nothing remained but his head. Yet fiercely he clung to life! Modern science came to his rescue, equipping him with a robotic heart, lungs, kidneys, liver -- a complete technological torso. With laser-assist eye-directed control panel, our hero learned to navigate once again, in time, of course. Everything takes time. Yet he learned to travel the yard and brush the morning dew on the leaves of his beloved trees against his scarred cheeks and sniff the fragrances of flowers and listen to the cries of the birds.
What he could still hear and smell, of course, through the increasing din and stench of the traffic.
Alas and alas again, we had better bring our tiresome story to its conclusion. For our hero, against all odds, against all premonitions, against all lessons of history, tried to cross that highway one more time. And we all know what happend:
Splat, squash, shplurt. All over. Not enough left over even to cremate.
And so, what is the lesson of this old story? Some say, "Quit, while you're ahead!"
Others, "Do away with RFD!" (And perhaps they have, perhaps because of this tragic story and others.)