Monday, January 16, 2012

We Just Sat There

Spending the morning at the VA Ambulatory Surgery center shouldn't have been an emotional experience.  Amster was having a pin removed from her foot and I was transportation and emotional support.  She's got a spasm in her neck and 4 kids to supervise this evening, so I'm on duty til everyone is asleep.  The morning piece was supposed to be the easy part.

There weren't enough chairs for the waiting family and friends. No one standing was older or more infirm than I am, so I remained comfortably ensconced in my oversized arm-chair, feeling no guilt at all.  The WWII vet smiling at me across the room, the young couple sharing the tiny love seat, the older couple holding hands as he waited to be called - we were a lovely, calm, relaxed group of 25 adults and one sleeping infant sharing a space.

CNN, broadcasting from a tiny flat screen in the corner above the Family Consult room, seemed like a good choice to me.  Politically middle of the road, it is easily ignorable in the way that a show-with-a-plot might not be.  Perhaps it's that TBG has the news on as constant background noise at home, but I was oblivious to the content as I checked my email and read Nance's take on Highly Sensitive People and JES's review of my friend Booker T  It was a calm and peaceful morning. 

Gainfully occupied on Nellie the Notebook, I was only aware of him after he stood up, but there he was, a 30-something-vet-with-a-limp, asking the television what the fuss was all about.  Why shouldn't those Marines have urinated on terrorists?  What was the problem? 

And then, turning to the rest of us, he nodded and included us in his rant by saying "Right?"

We sat there.  Each and every one of us just sat there.  I watched as this damaged young man sat back down and shook his head.  I noticed that we were all shaking our heads.

The young couple on the love seat met my eyes as we mouthed "NO!" to one another.  But it was a silent disagreement.  The WWII vet's wife and I exchanged rueful sighs and shrugs, wondering what possible good could come from such a disrespectful event, but we were quiet.  No one responded to the question on the table.

Had we been sitting closer, I might have engaged him in conversation.  I might have asked the why's and the when's and gotten nearer to figuring out how he could imagine that lowering oneself to one's  basest parts only serves to diminish, not enhance.  I probably wouldn't have changed his mind, but I would have tried. 

This morning, from across the room, I just sighed.  I knew that even were I sitting right next to him I would have kept my head down and my eyes on the keyboard and I would not have said a word.  Not a single one.  I'm not looking for any arguments these days. 

And as I sit here, typing and ranting, safely at my keyboard, out of harm's way, I wonder if this isn't the most profound change in my life over the past year. I am actually thinking before I speak. This is a good thing. I am considering whether or not my actions will result in my injury and that is also a good thing. I am examining the world around me and deciding if I should procede... also a good thing.... or so I thought.... but I'm fairly certain that before being perforated I might not have spoken directly to the shouter, but my disapproval would have been more noticeable. 

I would not have let the moment go un-noted.  Were Christina-Taylor with me, our conversation about the issue would have been respectful but not hushed.  Or so I imagine.  I'm not angry with myself, I'm not berating my lack of action, I'm not anything other than surprised at the turns my life has taken. There is no roadmap.  I'm making it up on the fly.

Time passed and so did our moment and soon CNN moved on to other stories and the young couple and I discussed their generation's ability/desire/need/expectation to live life in public.... out loud... assuming that everything will find its way to everyone else one way or another.I quoted Daddooooo's maxim: If you don't want it published on the front page of the New York Times then don't do it. They nodded in agreement.

So, given that mantra, given that I have a forum (albeit not quite The Paper of Record), and given that I have my response already prepared, here, in the spirit of better late than never is what I would have said to him:
I would not be surprised to learn that these 4 Marines were once pretty nice guys.  War changes people in profound ways.  But some things ought to be hard-wired, it seems to me.  Whether it's Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder giving you good advice, or your grandmother wagging her finger in your face, or the fear of embarrassment in The Grey Lady's headline, I think that if we trust you to hold a weapon in our name, we ought to be able to trust you to know right from wrong. 
And if you're not sure, because, perhaps, the fog of war has skewed your perspective, then can't we at least trust you to err on the side of caution?  No matter how full your bladder was at the time.

That uniform represents me and mine.  Your actions most certainly do not.



  1. I think it's horrifying what those soldiers did but war does things to some people and it's one reason to only have wars you must-- absolutely must. I have always said you as a people may think you are shedding blood over there to protect your home but it doesn't work that way-- the violence comes back and to the families of men damaged by war is one way we read about regularly.

    I would also have said nothing as who knows how close someone like that is to snapping. Even trained personnel often are unable to predict. It's a shame though that some are making political hay out of it but not surprising

  2. I think what those men did was horrific too. Desecrating those bodies in such a manner was not just disrespectful, it showed the world we have no respect for other cultures and we don't fight fairly. I like Dadooo's advice. I always was taught to treat people how you want to be treated. It saddened me to see/hear what those marines did. They are representing our country and if they cannot do the right thing by us, they should not be wearing that uniform. I understand war messes with people's minds, but it shouldn't mess with their moral compass.

    I don't know what I would have done in that situation. By him even having that outburst and looking for approval, means he knows it's wrong and wants justification for such despicable behavior. You did right by not saying anything there, but I'm glad you have said it here on your blog. We cannot let this behavior go unchecked and we cannot accept it. Accepting it means we condone it.

    The whole thing horrified and saddened me. We (the United States) are looking like monsters to the rest of the world. We live in a wonderful country, but what those men did was very, very wrong.

    Sending hugs,

    Megan xxx

  3. Our, meaning American citizens reputation and lack of humanity is certainly cause for pause. I think it is sad the extremes we feel we need to go to to make ourselves feel or appear superior when truly, we just have a different way of doing things-just like other countries do and who is to say who is right or wrong?
    I think we get too caught up in our superiority...I think Jiminy Cricket should have been on the shoulder of those American soldiers long before that incident...thanks for sharing a profound experience.

  4. Yep. And I have not lost my need to open my mouth, and I might have put my foot in it. My response certainly would not have been as well formed as yours. But then it does help to have time to think it through. ;-)


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