Aug 162005

Those of you that know me well know that my original career was a funeral director. In that capacity, I have sat with parents that have lost children. I have embalmed and buried children. One especially painful funeral involved having to conduct the funerals for a mother and her two young children, killed in an auto accident. I was there with that father, but I can’t begin to imagine the grief he must have felt.

I’ve conducted military funerals for young men killed in service to their country. There is nothing so stark as that rifle salute, and if the playing of Taps doesn’t send a chill up your spine, then you totally lack feeling.

Like most people that attend mortuary college, I worked at an Atlanta funeral home while in mortuary school. I remember over a two week period, we buried two teenagers (separate incidents), an infant and a newborn. I finally to sit down in a private place and cry by the end of the second week.

In my time as a witness to these periods of unimaginable grief, I developed a deep admiration for these parents. Their bravery was often breathtaking. Most all of these were noble people.

I’m not a parent, but like to think I’ve seen enough to have empathy for these people. I always try to see the human side of situations which is why, from the beginning, I have  opposed the Iraq war. Like all conflicts of this kind, it is not about soldiers fighting soldiers; it is about demoralizing the civilian population. And that means killing civilians. The ‘insurgents’ have a special gift for this. But we’re not exactly bad at it, as families who get it wrong at Iraqi checkpoints have learned the hard way.

And then, of course, there are our soldiers, some of them so young it’s no insult to call them kids. I’ve watched "Gunner Palace" and other documentaries about the war. I live nearly a major military command center so I see the people from there out in our community, and I’m dazzled by who we send to fight. Yeah, aging reservists. But also, a lot of kids just out of high school. They have no idea what they’re doing. How do I know that? Because when I was 18 I had no idea what I was doing. And my friends didn’t either.

But this is about how we should think about Cindy Sheehan, the woman who has been standing outside the President’s Crawford, Texas ranch in hopes of having a chat with him. Her son, Casey, died in Iraq. He was 24.

Mrs. Sheehan has all kinds of views. She has an opinion on Israel. She has a view about her income tax. And, of course, she has a view of the war which is not the one heard on Fox News.

If you have a shred of imagination and compassion, you realize that Mrs. Sheehan is in the middle of a trauma that will last all the days of her life, and you will be glad that you are going to sleep in the comfort of your own bed tonight instead of a motel room in Texas. Which is to say: You will cut her some slack. How much? All you have to give. Because she’s in the grip of emotions that are off the charts. She hurts more than–please God–you will ever know.

Cindy Sheehan is a Compassion Test. In a country becoming more polarized and less tolerant of dissent, if you claim the mantle of Christian, then you must, regardless of whether you agree with her views, give her total compassion and understanding. She is experiencing a grief that-please God-you will never have to experience.

I think she’s sometimes gone off what focus should be. I am certain she is being manipulated by some people around her, but dammit, I admire her guts. She gathered her wits about her, and by God, she took a stand.

I cheer her love for her son, and her willingness to demand that her representative leaders answer her questions about his sacrifice.

Unfortunately, as is the case with all those that disagree with the President or demand answers, Ms. Sheehan is now the object of derision by wingnut forces of the right. I’ve read a number of the articles and seen the reports by those trying to smear her. (God help you at your judgment Sean Hannity.) Loose Cannon, a writer at Beliefnet, seems to have distilled the bulk of those arguments and regurgitated them in an article there.

We must all condemn every foul word LC and the other right wing operatives have written about Ms. Sheehan. Some things are bigger than politics. More important than ‘respect’ for a President whose most familiar expression is a sneer. A whole lot bigger than the ‘Christianity’ these wingnuts profess to embrace. I can only say I’m heartened to read the discussion thread associated with this article. Most of responses condemn the author’s attack.

"Combat soldiers do not glorify war…only those without combat experience. It is noble only to those who would have others do their dirty work." How true that is. Notice that the Powell’s, Kerry’s, and even the McCain’s (eg generals, PoWs and war heroes) of this world are much more hesitant to support military action than the Cheney’s and W’s (eg moneyed draft dodgers). I recently saw an email that listed all the current members of Congress who have served in the military or have children serving. There were more democrats than republicans.

One of the claims leveled against Ms. Sheehan by the right is that she’s attempting emotional blackmail. As I’ve so often said, "That’s the pot calling the kettle black." The right has perfected emotional blackmail. They used emotional black mail to get GWB re-elected. They have used emotional black mail since September 11. Now, they use emotional black mail to try to shut up the mother of one of the fallen.

Why will Bush not just meet with her? Why would anyone have the need to ask what the noble cause was? Noble causes are usually visible, apparent, and well, noble — not hidden, censored, indecipherable, abstract, obtuse, and shrouded in mystery. Noble cause, like probable cause, should be articulable. Of course, we are talking about the illusive and incoherent Bush administration, but still, inquiring minds would like to know.  

When Jesus was crucified, Mary had a unique reason to grieve. So does Cindy Sheehan. So do all the mothers–on every side–who have lost children in this war. Give them respect. Stand aside. Lower your eyes. And if you have a tear left, for God’s sake and yours, shed it for these poor people who gave all and will get nothing back.

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