Of humanity, inhumanity, dogs and Iraqis

A luncheon engagement this past Monday turned out to be more than a midday feeding of the body or a pleasant get-together with a friend; it presented an opportunity to look into the mirror of my soul. You know… that two-sided mirror of our conscience which is both concave and convex, a mirror where images shrink or enlarge in accordance with how we see things, as well as how we see ourselves. But isn’t that the way we always see things: distorted, not necessarily as they are, particularly as our own government, our spiritual leaders, and often the media, brainwash us?

Arriving twenty minutes early, I chose to wait for my friend outside the restaurant in an old and colorful part of Portland (Oregon) where half of the residents are mostly low-end blue collar, and the other half undocumented Mexican nationals… with a sprinkling of Central Americans. A neighborhood with an obvious ethnic changing of the guard, although you couldn’t tell that from the people walking the streets during that noon hour, making one conclude that Hispanic folks must be either working – many at whatever jobs they had been offered that morning – or, perhaps, hiding from the front line of the imaginary Lou Dobbs’ Vigilante Corps, feared more than the Migra (authorities).

A couple of doors west of the restaurant was this veterinary clinic and during my wait, I saw two, maybe three people walk their pet-dogs in, while a woman, probably in her late fifties, caught my attention as she exited from the clinic with what seemed to me as a large black Labrador; or a Lab-mixed with an even larger breed, weighing in excess of 90 pounds.

The lady walked the Labby to a car parked at the curb just 30 or 40 feet from the clinic’s entrance, unlocking the car and pulling out a long wooded board with nailed stoppers which provided a perfectly fitted ramp to the backseats holding a makeshift dog-bed.

Wow! I was in heartfelt awe of this woman-dog relationship, her tenderness towards the poor canine, probably blind, in what seemed as the last few months of his life. There, in front of me, was a touch of humanity at its best: kindness, compassion, consideration… just love by any name. It took me back to my own relationship with a dog I had years ago; so I understood her well.

Then the car pulled out, its patriotic décor evidenced by me for the first time: Old Glory attached to the antenna of an old Jeep Cherokee together with a “support the troops” sign adorning the rear window. But that wasn’t all. Just before the car sped away, I was able to read one of two stickers glued to the bumper. A sticker… with pale white and blue stripes as background stating in two lines of red letters: “Keep Americans Working, Make Sure Torture Stays Employed.” I can only venture to guess the other sign being equally provocative.

I don’t know whether the Jeep belonged to the woman driving it or not, but the fitted ramp led me to believe that it was her vehicle. And my state of surprise, no, disbelief, as to what I had just seen quickly turned into anger as I kept asking myself the very same question: how can a lady who treats her dog so lovingly, humanely, show such inhumanity, have so much rancor towards other human beings… people she does not even know, from foreign far away lands to be sure; lands whose peoples never invited Americans as guests, our presence there simply as that of unwelcome occupiers.

But wait… that wasn’t all! Attached to the rear door there was this chrome silhouette of a fish, the identity card that proudly broadcasts to others: “I am a Christian… a true Christian; unlike ‘the others.’” Was this charitable lady a veritable Christian Jihadist?

Now the linking of angry thoughts in my mind brought me to a conversation I’d had two years before with a good friend and devout Evangelical. In a half-sardonic way, something uncalled for in my part… I must admit, I asked him how many times during the pre-meal grace-prayer, possibly among hundreds of meals after three years of American occupation of Iraq, had such prayers invoked peace, or pity for both Iraqis and Americans fighting an unjust and criminal war. After an initial blank stare, and realizing that mine was not a rhetorical question but one which required an answer, he calmly and unapologetically told me that Iraqis had never been mentioned, not once; peace had possibly been uttered a few times; and that praying for the safety of American soldiers had been done more often, particularly when there were dinner guests who had relatives serving in the military and stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A friend, and progressive fellow-writer, told me some time back in answer to an article I had written on Americans’ lack of compassion, as expressed by actions of both civilians and military dealing with Haditha, that I was being too harsh with my fellow countrymen; that people all over the world, according to him, tend to keep their warm feelings only for people in their immediacy, seldom beyond national borders. He was right… and I knew it. But it doesn’t mean I have to accept it. Humanity and inhumanity transcend any and all national borders, and if man can find bond with other animal species, there is absolutely no good reason for man to deny love to his fellow man... not here, not in Iraq, nowhere on this earth.

Twenty-four hours after my pre-lunch observance of that lady who provided a hybrid conscience as to her humanity, Thom Hartmann, a progressive radio host on Air America was asking his audience to call in their opinion as to whether George W. Bush should be facing an international tribunal for war crimes, which include the dislocation of over four million Iraqis and over a million war-related deaths. A legitimate question, no doubt, but the United States of America is no Serbia even if Bush’s inhumanity is as great, or greater, as that of Karadzic. Unfortunately, America stands by its actions, and its leaders, whether right or wrong.