06/11/2013 10:52 am ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Hash Browns

Madness rides faster than any signal. We're still aghast over Newtown; the Boston Marathon; hearing more stories of horror, heroism and hope, as shattered survivors address the empty spaces shot into their lives. Is there a point system for outrage; for a demand of action?

Now there are five more lives blasted away in Santa Monica. Are we so numb, we can't raise our voices, can't fear any more rejections of our demand for arms control? Do we simply stand aside, wait for the next location, the next report? It's breaking news to us: But not to the hearts beyond repair from last week's, last month's last season's shooting.

I remember listening to Officer Michael Crain's young widow give his eulogy on Radio 1070. This was on February 12th. Mrs. Crain's voice had the sunny way of a kid who scampers around. You'd hear her mom say "now slow down!" She spoke with the pang of a first rate country western star. She spoke about how they first met and fell in love, about their kids; you knew what a great guy he was.

I'd felt some of the same urgent reach, listening to this young woman whose world has fallen apart, as I'd felt listening to President Obama's State of the Union address. It's that longing for good things to happen to good people. It was also the memory of making family breakfasts of what are now politically incorrect foods and what patriotism once meant. Liberal stood for the accomplished mind.

When I heard the President reinstate the passion of the word "citizen," I pictured the home of the traditional American citizen decorated with the packages and products, which are the art objects of our time. They spell home (no matter what anyone says you really buy the stuff because you get some feeling from the package). Tide isn't cute but it wakes you up. "Yeah, sun's up! Let's get that wash done!"

This young Mrs. Crain's home had been blasted apart when a renegade ex-cop, arms full of weapons, headful of bitter lunacy, went on a rampage. There were rumors he'd headed up to Riverside, the edge of North L.A.'s forested mountains.

I will never forget the love, the crackling delight of this young woman's voice as she described their breakfast. "That was our favorite time altogether. Mike loved his eggs and bacon; and we'd all be there around the table." It was, you're almost sure, a little table in kitchen, and might have had a blue and white-checkered cloth. "When we first married I didn't know how to make hash brown potatoes. But Mike did love them, so I learned to make them just like he liked, and the kids grew to love hash browns" She was smiling through tears pouring down her face, "He'd come home from a night job sometimes, just to be with us, and what he'd see first, smell first, were hash browns.

She'd had to get a job later on when the kids were in school, but even then Mike had his hash browns.

The eulogy she spoke had the intimacy of a black and white movie; the sound of forks clicking on a plate, the crunch of toast, the crackling of paper napkins. But even in black and white the sun coming through the window was warm and bright.

And even as she said, "we fell in love right away-" you caught that Mike, the stalwart policeman in the small town of Riverside, knew this was a girl who'd grow into the fearless partner who'd be beside him, knowing he'd face danger, but she'd keep the family steady and together, so he could stand up for what was right, and handle whatever went wrong.

This was, though, a rustic close little town, the kind of useful center, which thrives next to American Resort centers. The resort up here is Big Bear, next to Lake Arrowhead. I think they named it that because it seemed shaped like an arrow. No one knows much about how beautiful this area is. Just as well. It can keep its stable character that way, can't it?

Riverside was where that particular renegade went through, burrowed himself in one of the Big Bear cottages, part of a complex of cabins a family built for their kids when they married.
That night as I watched the cabin burning up (was the guy who shot the two Riverside men really there?) I flicked back and forth to the President's speech. Will he get to gun control? Yes! Here it is. No games. No holding back. I watched Gabby Gibbons applauding with all the force she can find, all her heart. We had been waiting to see the President stand firm. Looks like he does!

But it's one thing to watch life as we do, on screens of various dimensions, and quite another to hear a voice so close on your radio, the voice of a young woman, whose world has been blown apart. I could see that reality, that slug, as she spoke; imagine her looking down at her hands. What can I do now? She'll know, she'll pull through. Riverside may have pulled through perhaps, like Newtown will be given the dignity of historic identity, will keep the character of its commitment to its citizens. The meaning of honor; standing up for ideals.

After the Riverside shooting, the announcers, usually harsh, had their voice hats off in their hands, describing, with Edward Murrow solemnity, the concerns about traffic on the Five North. You heard the bagpipes escorting the casket out of that church; every person in town was there. "The hearse now moves through our main street. And all the fire-fighters from all the nearby towns have made arches of their ladders over the streets..."

I did not hear such solemn concern; such detailed anguish this next time. The particular attention each life lost deserves. The attention I heard when I listened to people in Riverside speak of Michael Crain, "a very good man" "we'll be grievin' him forever" and "we'll be missin' him forever;" Example to us all.

I'd rather listen to this than all the rants, the bi-polar congressional harassment of our President. I'd rather hear the young Mrs. Crain telling me how she learned to make hash browns, looking down at her hands, holding them open, what do I do now.