“Kindness of America” Writer Shot; The Irony of America

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COMMENTARY | Ray Dolin, a man who was working on a memoir called "The Kindness of America," was shot in Montana after heading toward a pick-up truck, believing the driver was going to give him a ride. Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier said of the incident: "He was sitting down to have a little lunch and this guy drives up. He thought he was going to give him a ride and as he approached the vehicle, the guy pulls out his weapon and shoots him. It's as simple as that," reports the Associated Press.

The police arrested Lloyd Christopher Danielson III for the shooting, in addition to driving under the influence. Dolin, who was shot in the arm, is expected to recover from his injuries, according to ABC News.

Dolin was hitchhiking across the country, gathering material for his book. After this apparently random act of violence, though, it's possible that he'll need to find a new title.

I'm thinking "The Irony of America."

Sure, there is kindness to be found, and yes, we need to know about it, as reading about conflict, crime and suffering inflicted by one American against another can become disheartening, jading. It is so easy to take the bad and believe that the bad is all of it, the totality of what we have to offer one another.

We may wonder what he was thinking, questioning the very idea that he could cross the country hitchhiking and come out the other side unscathed and better for the experience. There is, perhaps, even a whisper of naivety -- or even of tempting fate -- in calling something "The Kindness of America" before it is finished.

But it also is a badge of faith, of believing that we are, as a nation, more than what we see every day scanning the news, that there are real people between the headlines, and those real people are more good than bad.

And therein lies our bipolarity: we hope for something like "The Kindness of America," something that confirms that deep down, we are all the same, we all have the best intentions, whether our states or our towns or our homes are red or blue or something else. We hope for evidence that between and underneath and around the bad there is clean good. We want to see our own humanity reflected in our nation's humanity.

But we expect a story like this one, one that affirms the worst -- one that comes down to the random application of bad will.

We cannot say what, if any, effect his shooting will have on Dolin's work. According to the Associated Press, he managed to flag someone down, who took him to the hospital.

And there we have the flip again between the good and the bad, the kindness and the cruelty. A stranger saw another stranger in need and helped him.

Even if everyone else on Dolin's trip was wonderful, can it really outweigh being shot at what appears to be random? Can a thousand rights make up for that one monumental wrong? Will it change his perspective on a country from which he expected the best?

Only Dolin can answer those questions. No doubt he will, given time. But until then, it's hard to view the one extreme without the other, the "should have known" without the "what could be."

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