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June 13, 2012

Deadline to save your life

We can never be certain that something we publish will save a life. But it’s nice to think it might — and noble to try. My latest effort profiled a preventable tragedy. I wanted you to know and love the victim through the eyes of his admirers. As a courtesy, I shared the final draft with a survivor, who asked that I not go forward with the piece. It’s my right to publish it. But it wouldn’t feel right.

The result: a deadline looming without a column.

What was that? You dare me to write an even better cautionary column beginning with an original, Bartlett’s-worthy quote? Wow, you’ve got a lot of nerve! OK, game on:

“You don’t have the rest of eternity to stop fucking up!”

I know it sounds harsh, but “You ain’t livin’ right” isn’t very original, and my editor wouldn’t like it if I cut and pasted the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” even though that’s one inspirational prelude for makin’ change, baby.

What I mean to say — because you made me — is that something you’re doing is going to kill you or maybe someone else. Then how would you live with yourself? You’d be dead? Well, maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe you’d survive a horrible crash but someone else would die because you were texting while driving.

On Sunday, three missionaries en route to meet me at Kingfish for lunch believe they would have been sideswiped on Interstate 71 had they not honked at a driver who was texting. He looked up briefly, corrected course and resumed his compulsion. I know this kind of numskull. He stays too busy to have a deep or even shallow thought. If his mind weren’t occupied, he’d have to think about his life and see where it’s going, which is nowhere good. Sooner or later, he’s going to crash.

If it weren’t so tragic, we’d laugh at the ridiculous rationalizations of fools who play this road-bound Russian roulette. “Oh, but I’m careful.” Brother, what art thou smoking?

Eventually, someone gets hurt, and there’s always collateral damage. Innocents, idiots and entire villages suffer. Only then does it occur to families and friends that their beloved, reckless knucklehead had a secret life.

It’s hard to imagine interventions or rehab for mobile texters. And let’s face it, the law is difficult to enforce. Seldom are violators cited. Not much of a deterrent.

So what does it take to alter their crash course? And I use “crash” advisedly. Accidents are not predictable — not like my deadlines. Crashes, by contrast, are consequences of cumulative risk-taking. So when is their deadline as they text toward Armageddon?

What’s your life-threatening habit? And how will you drop it before it drops you?

Actress Edie Falco, who plays Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” told Timeout Chicago what it took for her to get sober 20 years ago: “I thought, ‘Oh, I’m done; this is something that is having me rather than me having it.’ It was the morning after an absolutely awful night when I woke up in an awful state, and some very calm realization came over me that I’m never going to do this again.”

She says she’s not tempted to relapse but cautioned those who do: “If you’re an addict, you’re an addict, and it’s just the way your brain works, so it doesn’t really ever go away … Addiction has caused so much pain in everybody’s lives, certainly mine, but I find it endlessly fascinating, just the way our brain can be maneuvered into such irrational behavior.”

Maybe you’re thinking there’s such a thing as an ex-addict, that you’re beyond the danger zone, that you can dabble without relapsing, that if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.

There are early deadlines for those in denial.

Here’s a chilling statistic: Prescription drug abuse now claims the lives of more Kentuckians than do traffic accidents (and crashes).

We publicize these personal tragedies in the hope that risk-takers will watch where they’re going and see — through roadblocks of self-delusion — a fatal destination and its agonizing aftermath.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It’s downright deadly.

End of text.