I read the news story yesterday morning without thinking about it much. Another terrorist attack. Another suicide bomber. Some Norwegians killed, this time…and an unidentified American citizen.
Except the unidentified American citizen was my friend, Thor. I got the call last night, in the middle of mundane family life things like bringing my kids back from the gym and getting them ready for bed. The news reached into my cocoon and slapped me in the face.
I met Thor Hesla during my Junior year of college. His father was a religion professor, famous for taking students on walks through campus to investigate archetypal, mythic, and sexual imagery in the architecture. Thor was a rugby player and a madman and a gentle, sweet soul. He was one of my favorite people in the universe.
Somehow, I always imagined Thor to be indestructible. In college, he was capable of astonishing feats of stupidity while drunk, doing things like climbing (and falling off of) building drainpipes, or racing his BMW motorcycle along Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta at three in the morning in an attempt to reach the Majestic Diner before me (okay, granted, I was driving just as quickly and drunkenly--but at least I was in a car). For a time, he worked as a dishwasher in Yosemite National Park while trying to write the Great American Novel. He took up rock climbing, and managed to survive a sixty-foot fall and facial smash-up. I learned about this accident after he returned to Atlanta to heal. He asked me to pick him up for a party, and only when he got into my car with his swollen, Frankensteinian face did I learn what had happened to him. It didn't faze him a bit. At the party, he got drunk and tried to remove his stitches. I think he was doing it to impress a girl. That was Thor.
I was living in California during his Yosemite sojourn. I went up to visit him for the weekend once. He asked me to bring him some Walt Whitman and a Mad Magazine. When I arrived with books in hand, he offered me an old rugby shirt and a bandana-patched pair of pants in exchange. That was Thor, too.
He was loud and abrasive. He said what he thought. He was capable, at any moment, of launching himself into a ridiculous, pseudo-tai-chi stance and yelling "Kra-ka-toooo!" He once drank a glass of soy sauce on a bet (the loser--a girl, of course--was then forced to be civil to him for an entire day. Not kind--just civil). Although I saw him less and less frequently over the years, we butted heads whenever we met, and we met with absolute joy. I have never met another soul even remotely like him.
Today I'm traveling for work. At the security line at LAX, I watched a hapless father try to fold down an infant car seat for the x-ray machine, his baby in one arm, while the otherwise-unemployable TSA idiot barked at him to take off his jacket and empty out his baby's water bottle (the bottle of formula was okay; the identical bottle full of water was apparently evil). Everyone behind him began huffing and puffing. When I finally got my chance to walk through, my belt and watch band set off the alarm--even though they had made it through my home airport just fine. And suddenly I was filled with tears and anguish and rage. We are children playing without supervision in a dangerous world, poking tigers in the eye and thinking it will teach them some kind of lesson about who is boss. And our best, most dedicated, most honorable sons and daughters take our games seriously and die for it. Who is going to answer for them? Who is going to answer for my friend, Thor, who went to terrible places and tried to do some good?
Waiting my turn at security, watching our top-notch security personnel yell at grandmothers and harrass infants, I wanted to grab one of them by the shoulders and yell, "You children! You idiots! What are you doing?"
But it wouldn't have helped. Nothing will help.