Black Teeth

A lot of my questions here are not about our court case, they are the same questions you have about your parents, or anyone would. Maybe you got  more time with your parents and got more answers, but maybe you got less. I had no idea how many young children lose a parent not in the hospital but in a courtroom. It's an epidemic. I have numbers.

Except ours is an epidemic where love dies. It doesn't just die, it turns on itself like an auto-immune disease. Love reverses into resentment. Love turns against love and lives out a long half-life like plutonium.

My father had an old Chinese friend, Ma Wong, who said she had no words for tooth brush or tooth paste or tooth decay until she came to this country in her toothless later years. In her time, your teeth were gone by age thirty. There was nothing to be done about it. It was just a fact of life. Everyone knew it. No one talked about it. There were no words for it. When an epidemic is everywhere it's invisible.

You are toothless Ma Wong. You don't call our epidemic an epidemic. You don't call it anything. It's too big to see. It's everywhere, like air.

The Black Death first entered Europe when Mongol armies under Jani Beg besieged the port city of Kaffa on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Jani Beg's army was fleeing, not just invading. He was fleeing The Black Death. "India was depopulated. Tartary, Mesopotamia, Syria, Armenia. All covered in dead bodies." The Black Death traveled with silk and cinnamon by caravan and merchant ship, then rode on horseback with invading (fleeing!) armies. Surrounding Kaffa, Jani Beg was himself under siege. Kaffa was a contest between two kinds of siege, one man-made, the other medical and invisible and not of anyone's choosing.

Or was it? Was The Black Death our own choosing? Jani Beg won by catapulting his dead over the walls into the city. Traders from Genoa escaped the siege of Kaffa and carried The Black Death to all the ports on the Mediterranean. Like Jani Beg they spread The Black Death by fleeing it.

When The Spanish Flu killed half a million people who had otherwise survived World War I, a brilliant young doctor at America's best hospital wanted to fight back. He went around all the wards of his hospital comparing diseased and healthy throats with his tongue depressor, the one trusty tongue depressor he carried with him everywhere. Above all he wanted to keep influenza from his maternity ward, where life gets another chance, and another and another, and there he probed every throat with extra care. Like Jani Beg and the merchants of Genoa he spread what he fought against.

Love works that way, my father said. You look for it in front of you but it's behind you. Love is behind your search for love. It's there from the start, if you stop and look back. Only knock and it opens to you.

Same with evil, he said, which cannot be anything but love twisted back on itself. Evil is behind your search for evil, not anywhere in front of you. To stop evil stop hunting it.

Our epidemic spreads from three thousand county courthouses every week. This week too, from a courthouse not two hours from you. Like that brilliant doctor hunting down influenza at Mass General, like Jani Beg fleeing The Black Death and besieging Kaffa, like the merchants of Genoa fighting back at Kaffa and then fleeing, these courts spread and multiply the evil they fight against. Medical science has come a long way since The Black Death and The Spanish Flu. Law has not. Law is still the doctor with a long beak full of flowers who hurries people with plague to their death far from everyone else. Sorry, Scott Turow, but why don't you know this? Or if you know, why don't you say? A court cannot grow love or save love, a court is like the earliest kind of chemotherapy, the same mustard gas that killed 100,000 men in World War I. A court can only poison love or twist it back against itself. Law is death to love, and if love is life, law is death.

Yeah I'm mad. How did you guess?

You don't call this an epidemic. You don't call it anything. It's too big to see. It's everywhere, and there's nothing to be done.

But my father wondered. Is this just tooth decay? In one era you are toothless. No one past thirty has any teeth. In the next era your perfect teeth outlive you in your grave. Could love outlive teeth in some era to come?

As you guessed, I'm sure, I found all this in my father's papers after he died. Take it up with him if you like. OK, no, with me I guess.

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