A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I don't know how to tell you this, but . . . well . . . this may be "good-bye."

I hope not. I enjoy our time together each week, and I'd miss it if it should suddenly end. But I have this "condition," and the hard reality is, I could go down -- permanently -- at any time.

Well, OK -- it's not me that could go down at any time. It's my computer. But it might just as well be me. Take away my word processor and I'm a cowboy without a horse, an engineer without a train, an actor without a stage, a politician without a tax.

We’ve talked to experts, including several teenagers. They shake their heads sadly. It's as if God -- or perhaps even Bill Gates -- has spoken, and there's nothing mere mortals can do.

As near as we can tell, our module KERNEL 32.DLL is damaged. Until a week ago, I didn't even know I had a module KERNEL 32.DLL. Now, I'm stressed because it's broken, and I'm going to have to take everything off my computer and re-install it, and who knows what will happen when I do that ("We who are about to re-boot salute you!")? Years ago, my biggest technological challenge was torn typewriter ribbon. Replacing it was messy, but it didn't require a degree from MIT. Today, you damage a KERNEL, and your corn is cooked. So to speak.

And they call this "progress."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a reactionary longing for "good old days" that, truth be told, were never actually all that good. But you have to admit that things were simpler then. Take deodorant, for example. When I was growing up you could use Right Guard or . . . Right Guard. Mom would just buy a can for each bathroom, and the whole family was pleasantly deodorized.

Today, personal hygiene is much more complicated. I recently spent half of a Saturday afternoon trying to remember all of the options my teenage daughter wanted in the deodorant she asked me to pick up for her. It was like picking out a sports car. Roll-on or stick? Deodorant or antiperspirant? Unscented, regular scent or baby powder fresh? When I finally made my selection, I asked the checker if I could take it out for a test drive. She thought I was kidding.

I wasn't.

But just when I'm ready to dig a hole, fill it with supplies and hide my family while the rest of the world progresses itself into oblivion, I read about Sarah. Sarah was 9 when she moved West with her pioneer family in the late 1850s. According to journal accounts, she was "bright," "cheery" and "her father's darling." For a couple of years prior to the family's move West, she suffered occasionally from something they called "thick lungs" -- probably asthma.

One night a sudden storm brought instant winter to the prairie. Temperatures dropped dramatically, and snow began swirling around the encampment. Sarah's "thick lung" condition kicked in. She complained of tightness in her chest. She began coughing violently. Her struggle to breathe became more intense and more painful until finally, just before dawn, she died.

I understood the pain I read in those pioneer journals. My 18-year-old daughter, Beth, is "bright," "cheery" and "her father's darling." She also has asthma. More than once we have experienced "thick lung" symptoms. In fact, we’re experiencing a bout of it even as I write this. She’s stretched out on the sofa beside me, her feet in my lap, as I type on my KERNEL-impaired laptop. She has already taken some vaporous medication on a little machine called a nebulizer, and we’re waiting for the doctor to call in a prescription to our pharmacy.

But that’s the thing. We have a doctor, a pharmacy, medications and a nebulizer. Sarah and her family didn’t have any of those things. Some time ago when I told Beth about Sarah, she said what I was thinking. "If I had been born back then," she said with profound simplicity, "I probably would have been one of the children who died."

As far as I'm concerned, that possibility is completely unacceptable. So if the price I must pay for the progress that keeps Elizabeth healthy is an occasional creamed KERNEL or a little supermarket confusion, it's a price I'm willing to pay.

 Even if this really is "good-bye."

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— © Joseph Walker

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