Washed by the rivers, Blest by suns of home.
Thus, weeping while he spoke, he took his way,
Where, new in death, lamented Pallas lay.
Vergil (70 B.C.–19 B.C.). The Æneid
The loss of Eric Haas is a sad blow for Cape Cod. A popular and handsome Nauset graduate, the fact that he was appointed to attend the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and put himself through the challenge of becoming an Eagle Scout speaks volumes about his fundamental worth to those not personally acquainted with him or his family. His parents and family have the condolences of their neighbors for their grievous loss.
However, his sad death has brought two issues to the fore for consideration; one is practical and one is societal, and both deserve consideration.
First, the practical. Cellular phone companies need to reexamine their protocols for dealing with law enforcement before legislation forces them to do so. We have all been told too often that our cell phones contain GPS capability, along with a camera, for their front line operators to claim that they have no idea if ‘pinging’ the phone can produce useful results. The standard that there must be a search warrant or evidence of a crime for them to utilize their technological abilities in nonsense. What is especially offensive is the fact that the Brewster and Harwich police chiefs were ignored, but a Channel 5 television producer was able to get results.
These companies need to appoint law enforcement liaisons. In the event the young adult was leaving of their own volition, which seems to be the company’s concern, they could report this back to the police who could communicate the fact to the person reporting them missing. The police have their own regulations regarding this – a person must be gone for a period of time before they will begin to investigate a missing person report. Let the company’s protocol run concurrently, so when the time has elapsed for the investigation to begin, the cellular company can immediately utilize their technology to transmit the last known coordinates to the police who are experienced in dealing with missing persons; some of them, like battered wives, wish to stay missing and the police have policies in place to protect those who wish to disappear.
As people abandon their land lines in favor of cellular phones, and take their old phone numbers with them, it is important to note that the old relationship with law enforcement does not exist with cellular carriers. For instance, with some carriers, for a call to be traced, the police do not have access to these records in an established way as they do with Verizon, but must instead ask the District Attorney to get the record of calls – a potentially dangerous time lapse. Every company can and does have its own policies, and that needs to be both standardized and communicated to the public, and made more available to law enforcement while respecting the privacy of the cell phone owners. It appears that young Eric Haas died on impact – but what if speedier action could have saved his life AND HE DIED DUE TO LACK OF HELP?
Secondly, the societal. Porcupine is disappointed that ‘grief counselors’ were imported to Nauset to work on this tragedy. Have we really become so fragmented as a community that we cannot comfort one another? Every tragedy now seems to bring these ravens of destruction out – when is the last time you heard of a tragedy on the news without the newly mandatory phrase, ‘Grief Counselors will be provided’ falling from the lacquered lips of the vacant young woman reading the news. As if human commiseration and understanding could be produced by a vending machine! We still have families, churches, trusted teachers, wise adults – why are we outsourcing fundamental human relationships to people not from the community, who may or may not have any understanding of WHY the event in question is a tragedy? As a side note, Porcupine has always wondered what would draw a professional into such a morbid specialty, as gypsies of grief, and wonders if their counsel is affected by their choice of expertise.
Do not misunderstand – Porcupine has noting but respect for the psychiatric profession, and for getting proper treatment for depression and inability to cope. What Porcupine decries is the impersonal and facile ‘handling’ of grief as if it were halitosis or bad posture. Tragedy and grief are deeper and more profound than that, and forces one to confront an irrefutable truth – every person now reading this is going to die someday. Bereavement is not only the loss, but the recognition of mortality and coming to terms with the despair felt upon that recognition. It is not a breathing exercise, but an experience that can make you stronger. As a community, we ought to resist trifling with this experience, but instead use it as a way to draw closer to God and to one another. Let us hold out our hands to one another still.
If these two changes can be made, young Mr. Haas has not died senselessly but has rather died to make his community and world a stronger and more human place. From all that is said about him, it is exactly what he would want.