Richard Connor: Even on vacation, harsh reality intrudes on tranquility

The cost of war – a soldier’s flag-draped casket. (AP Photo)

Reality, real life on life’s terms, chases you down and smacks you in the face or maybe dead straight to the heart even when you try to vacation.

You’re trying to take some time off and clear your head and stress levels but then you are forced to stop and ponder the reasons for misery and sadness and tragedy.

I count it a great summer when I get a week in the woods in a cabin I own on a lake. My parents took me there the first summer of my life.

It’s cool and tranquil and refreshing. Your soul comes alive while you try to let the mind rest.

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My own serenity was jarred last week and troubled images would not leave my head and they linger still.

The first unsettling event was news of the duck boat accident at a Branson, Missouri, lake where a vicious windstorm with gusts over 60 miles an hour descended without warning.

A total of 17 persons died as the duck boat capsized and sank. One woman who survived lost her three children. A person can barely comprehend the horror of such a tragedy, particularly one set against the backdrop of families enjoying a summer vacation.

One moment they were relaxing and laughing and the next they were bobbing among violent waves, fighting for their lives.

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Such events cause us to ask ourselves troubling questions for which there are no answers.

My next uncomfortable moment occurred not far from my cabin. I have a neighbor but because I covet privacy I’d had little interaction with him and could not even recall his name until last week. Once or twice in the summer we would see one another, on foot or in our trucks; we would wave and go our separate ways.

The neighbor put his house up for sale last week and I walked over to take a look at it. We visited a bit but he was off to play golf. He told me to look around. Rarely have I seen a house, garage and grounds so meticulously cared for. Everything had its place and was in order.

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This man and his wife lead a well-thought-out and planned life, I imagined. Mine is chaotic.

But as I walked through the property I soon realized the neighbors’ lives had been jarred by tragedy. Whatever had once been in the family’s plan had crumbled.

As I exited the garage I glanced at a poster on the wall, a simple poster on a wall otherwise bare and clean. The poster was taken from a full-page tribute in the local newspaper. The paper honors “Fallen Heroes” and memorializes the tributes with poster-sized replicas.

I stopped and read the description of a solider who was killed during his second tour in Afghanistan and who was obviously my neighbor’s son.

We’ve been at war abroad for many years now and I for one have become numb to it. But the poster hit me with chilling immediacy, driving home the pain endured by families who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The wars since 2001suddenly became more real and more personal as I fixed my eyes on the poster while the dead soldier’s father went off to play golf, no doubt trying to maintain some remnant of a normal life. It’s hard to imagine that any family’s life will ever be normal after such a tragedy.

What must he be thinking, I wondered? What tricks does his mind play on him each and every day as he, his wife and remaining son struggle with the grief of a death at war while listening to the mindless chatter and venomous insults that pass for political debate in this country and the world.

Do we really know any longer why we fought in Iraq and continue to fight in Afghanistan? Do the deaths still get reported as quickly, and do they affect us as they should? Or have we become immune to the pain and suffering of a family dealing with a son or daughter’s death so far away in a cause we no longer understand – if we ever did?

Consider the numbers. Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a total of 6,251 U.S. troops have been killed in war, including 1,695 in and around Afghanistan. The war in Iraq cost the lives of 4,474 American soldiers; 82 have died in other theaters of war.

Such staggering numbers should be in front of us daily but we rarely see them in the news. Instead, we listen to the president parry and trade insults with the press, world leaders, members of congress and even government agencies that are part of his own administration. The media are consumed with taking sides – pro-Trump or anti-Trump – and virtually ignore the critical issues that affect the lives of ordinary Americans.

It’s not entirely the media’s fault, of course. How can reporters and editors find time to focus on real problems when they’re busy tracking down sordid tales surrounding alleged Trumpian trysts with porn stars and Playboy models?

Vacationing or not we cannot get away from these troubling times. There is still the cruelty of war to remind us of our unstable world abroad and at home there are school shootings, duck boat accidents and an endless supply of misdeeds and misadventures emanating from man and nature. The tragedies can be overwhelming but we can take heart in occasional miracles, like the amazing rescue of those young soccer players who were trapped in a cave in Thailand.

Perhaps the best we can do during a summer respite is remember to keep those we love close to us, respect life, and hope that there are others in the world to help and protect those who need it most.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at