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Why do these things happen?

Posted: December 6, 2012 5:48 p.m.
Updated: December 7, 2012 5:00 a.m.

I’m 64 years old, and I’m no closer to figuring out life’s why-things-happen-the-way-they-do mystery than I was when I was a teenage pup.

They buried my friend Dwight Dana last week over in Darlington. His century-old Victorian house caught fire in the early morning hours the previous Sunday. His son, Radisson, who lived in a guest house on the premises, called 911 after discovering the blaze and then ran into the raging inferno to try to save his dad.

Firefighters later found one body in the front part of the house, the other in the rear -- a dad and his son, their lives snuffed out simultaneously. As with so many tragedies experienced by all of us, we are left to wonder why things like this happen.

Dwight was 67, a mild-mannered, bow-tie-wearing Darlington native who spent his life in the newspaper business. We got to know each other decades ago, back when newspapers were at their peak and when we miscreants of the South Carolina journalism community were a tight-knit bunch.

We men don’t like to use the term sweet to talk of one another, but it’s an apt description of Dwight. He was just such a sweet guy in the best sense of the word.

I didn’t know his son Radisson -- one of a set of triplets born to Dwight and his wife, Paula, 28 years ago -- but his bravery speaks for itself. He gave up his life trying to save his dad.

Dwight and Paula divorced a few years ago but remained close friends. In fact, Dwight gave a birthday party for her not long ago. How many divorced men do you know who do things like that?

Over the years, Dwight worked for a number of newspapers in the Pee Dee. He had a particular knack for human interest stories, and one colleague recalled that his columns had, “well, they had a certain <start ital> Dwightness <end ital> to all of them.”

Everyone who knew Dwight understood what she meant.

Dwight was a dedicated Episcopalian, but his and Radisson’s joint funeral service was held in Darlington’s First Baptist Church because it was the only place in town that could come close to accommodating the crowd.

What a turnout it was -- the largest I’ve ever seen at a funeral. It was a heck of a send-off, as my late friend Jennie Lee Carter of Camden once said about a friend’s last rites.

There were bagpipes and eloquent prayers and “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” that classic hymn that drives left-wingers nuts because they claim it’s too militaristic.

Some of the good folks of Darlington had put out the word that men could pay tribute to Dwight by wearing bow ties to the funeral.

I’m telling you, it was the bow-tiest crowd I’ve ever seen. Hallelujah.

Several of Radisson’s friends spoke of his character, and then a friend of Dwight’s strode to the pulpit. He recalled things that brought smiles -- Dwight’s affinity for khaki pants and plaid shirts and longneck beers and juke boxes primed with country music.

He and Dwight, who had lived together at some point in the distant past, apparently spent the night in the Camden hoosegow long ago after a particularly boisterous Carolina Cup, which allowed him to good-naturedly call Dwight “my roommate and my cellmate.”

He recalled the time when Dwight was in the Navy and called him collect, in the wee hours of a morning. They chatted for quite awhile before he asked, “Dwight, where are you?”

“I’m in the Four Roses bar.”

“And where is that?”

“Manila.”

He spoke of Dwight’s character and his foibles, his gentle spirit and his sense of humor.

“Dwight, at times,” he said -- and I’m pretty sure this was the first time these words had ever been uttered from the pulpit of the First Baptist Church in Darlington, South Cuhlina -- “could be a cantankerous bastard.”       

Yes, it was a good sendoff. Dwight would have liked it.

But I’m no closer than ever before to figuring out life’s mysteries and why a loving God allows tragedies of unspeakable depth to occur.

I’m not posing some philosophical puzzle you’ve never considered yourself. You’ve no doubt pondered the same question more than once in your life – <start ital> why do these things happen? <end ital> and unless you have a direct line to a higher power, you don’t know the answer, either.

But I’m comforted by the fact that somewhere, Dwight is propped up enjoying a cold longneck and a Wurlitzer with flashing blue lights.

And if he happens to call collect from Manila, let’s all agree to accept the charges.

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