Friday, September 7, 2012

Losing Sleep over the Big Questions

When I was twelve, a recent transplant to this country (I am a citizen, but spent my child hood across the ocean in Germany), I was required to write a paper on the Clinton Dole presidential race.   That assignment resulted in a letter detailing all the reasons why I thought Clinton was the better candidate which I was actually was brave enough to put in the mail box and send to the White House.  (I really wish I had kept a copy of that letter.  I have no idea what it said, but I do know, that somewhere, in some box, I do have the letter I got back a few weeks later.  It was just a form letter with a pretty little signature but that was alright with me.  Twelve year old me got a letter from the White House!!)
When I was twenty I met my future husband on the way to a debate at which nine of the twelve candidates competing for the democratic nomination for president were present.  I was going to see Dennis Kucinich.  I had recently declared a political science major and was rallying together as many people as I could find to come along to see the debates.  So why not ask that cute boy on the bike, who happened to ride past, to come along?
Just before finishing my degree, I lost my faith in politics to create positive social change.  This was in large part due to a book entitled Constructing the Political Spectacle by Murray Edelman. I just happened to pick it up.  I think I read it in a single night.  It is long, thick, it's language obtuse, but when I set it down I was a new, less idealistic person.  I grudgingly voted for Kerry over Bush, because, well Kerry was not Bush.  I added a major in art, a minor in horticulture and went to grad school for soil science.  
But, when I was twenty five, that same boy I met on his bike and I pushed our new born baby to our polling place and proudly voted for Barrack Obama.  I was excited! I still have the newspaper folded up, yellowed, in a file with other baby memorabilia that someday I will page through with my daughter and I can tell her:  "You were there when we made history.  We elected our first black President of the United States of America."

But, there is something else that happened that has shaped all of our lives.
Before I had been eighteen an entire month, before I had been a college student an entire month, planes crashed into the twin towers.  I remember it vividly. I was brushing my teeth in the dorm bathroom, the cleaning lady told me: "We have been bombed."  I ran into my dorm room, turned on the TV, woke my roommate (who loved to sleep in) and called my (then) boyfriend to wake him up and tell him to turn on his TV.  I watched the invasion of Iraq while sipping beer in my best friend's college dorm room.  In complete disbelief I watched beautiful lights above Baghdad trying desperately to grasp the reality that those things, that looked so much like fireworks, were real and deadly.
My entire adult life has existed with 'war' in the middle east as it's back drop.  A distant backdrop that is so easy to be ignored.  An entire generation of American children has grown up with Osama bin Laden as THE boogeyman out to get them, their security, their dreams, their America.  I suppose we would all expect them to party in the streets when the news came that he had finally been found and killed.

Today I drove to the store to quickly grab some ice cream to serve with the peach cobbler I baked (mmm..  fresh peaches), and as I pulled into the parking lot Governor Schweitzer began speaking.  I parked, pulled a paper and a pen out for Ivory and told her to draw a picture while I listened intently: "Ivory, please don't speak to me right now.  I really, really want to hear what this man has to say." She drew a series of bear paws.  What else would a little girl growing up in Montana draw?
What did our governor have to say? I was entranced.  Ah.  A fellow soil scientist.  The audience participated. "That dog don't hunt."  I had no idea he and Mitt Romney traveled together.  Facts, Figures, Numbers. Interesting.  And then my stomach dropped and turned into a knot.

"Governor Romney said that finding Osama bin Laden was "not worth moving heaven and earth." Tonight, bin Laden isn't on earth, and he sure isn't in heaven. Thanks to the courage of American Special Forces and the bold leadership of our president, Osama bin Laden is at the bottom of the ocean." (full transcript here)

Did it have to be phrased this way?  I realize that this event marks a huge accomplishment for the Obama administration.  An accomplishment, which might be of benefit to remind the American people of during an election year, but there is just something so sad about a whole room of people cheering the death of anyone, no matter how vile of a person they might have been in life.  In death don't we all just become someone's child, someone's parent, someone's loved one that is no longer there?

Obama has my vote this fall....  but in the mean time I am sitting here, while my children sleep in the other room wondering how I am going to answer the big questions when they are old enough to ask them.  Why is a whole room of adults cheering killing (a game I forbid them to play)?  It baffles me.

I do believe in social change.
I believe we can make a difference.
I have to believe we can move forward.
Maybe someday we will have universal health care, maybe someday women's health will not get reduced to abortion, maybe someday we will no longer be sending young men and women half way across the globe to risk their lives for a public that is only distantly aware of their and their families sacrifices.
I believe in a better America, a better world and this is where my better world starts: "Ivory, Sylvan I want you to always try and remember that everyone, whatever race, color, religion, gender, sexuality they may be, is a person.  A person with a mom and dad, a girlfriend or boyfriend, a husband or wife, maybe kids, maybe even grand kids...  It is never okay to cheer the death of someone, whatever the circumstances, because a living someone out there has lost a loved one and we should, at the very least, respect their grief."

So please Mr. President, Governor Schweitzer, anybody else out there giving a stump speech during this presidential election: Just as no one has forgotten 9-11, no one has forgotten the day Osama bin Laden's death hit the news.  There is no need to make it a cheer line.  The last ten years of our nation's history have been shaped by these events, please don't define our future by them as well.


  1. Heidi,

    Absolutely awesomely said!
    And I must add...ever since I was born, the United States has been at 'war'. Not always the big, publicly acclaimed ones, the actually declared ones, but, none-the-less, our nation has, for my entire life, sent men and women...many just kids...somewhere to be killed. All in the name of...what? To me, it is in the name of Empire.

    I don't believe that bin Laden is doomed to 'eternity in hell'; I don't believe those who killed him will 'earn an eternity in heaven' either. But, if that's what it takes to make some people feel better about declaring right and wrong, to justify despicable acts, I guess that's how it will be. It won't convince me to vote.

    But, yes, I'll vote. And I'll vote Obama, too. sometimes feels like an old tape playing....he's not Mitt Romney.

    When I think back of all the leaders of nations who have been deposed and/or killed in my lifetime....I wonder, just like with bin Laden, how many others felt that deep-seated melancholy I did when Ghadaffi was killed and Libya 'liberated'?

    You'll be able to answer those questions Ivory and Sylvan will have, Heidi. Don't worry. They'll probably be messy answers...I know mine were and are. But life is kinda messy, and the best we can do is be honest about all that messiness....


  2. Heidi,
    This is phenomenal! I'm sharing it with...THE PLANET!!! Well, with everyone I can reach, anyway. I STRONGLY think you should submit this as a letter to the editor to the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, and anywhere else you feel like sending it. It should be read, re-read, hung up in offices, outhouses, and kindergartens.