Sunday, May 15, 2011

A sandwich for a homeless vet

I bought a homeless guy a sandwich on Friday night. He was standing in front of the QFC in my neighborhood, bearing a sign that read "Homeless Veteran. Anything Helps." I gave him one of those sheepish smiles -- the kind that says "well, I'd like to help you, but I'm a graduate student, and I have no money..."

"You have a beautiful smile," he said. That did it. So I asked him if he wanted a sandwich.

"Yes, please. Roast beef. That would be the first meal I've had all day."

I grabbed a four dollar roast beef sandwich and gave it to him on my way out the door.

"Where did you serve?" I asked.

"Iraq. Desert Storm. The worst part was when they lit the oil fields on fire, and it smelled like constant burning. All the time. I'm surprised my nose recovered. And man, was it ever dusty. I was glad when I got out and came home."

"Thank you for serving our country, sir," I said.

There were tears in his eyes as I walked away.

I never used to buy sandwiches for homeless vets. Occasionally I would buy food for the guy outside of the grocery store, particularly if it was around the holidays. But I find myself frequently adding a sandwich to my grocery store bill and giving it to the guy out front with a homeless vet sign. See, the man I'm dating served in Afghanistan and is in the Army Reserves. If he were ever in need of a sandwich, I'd want a kind stranger to buy one for him, too.

I've changed my mind about certain things since beginning to date a guy in the military. I think I'm more critical of the way our troops are being used. I mean, did we really have to go into Libya? Couldn't somebody else have taken up the mantle of "defender of human rights and enemy of abusive dictators?" C'mon, we weren't the only ones upset about Ghadaffi. What about bringing the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq like you promised, Mr. President?

When they found Osama bin Laden and were discussing whether or not to release the photos, I found myself 100 percent against the idea. Before, I likely would have been all for it under the principle of freedom of information. Now, I see it as a national security threat. The appearance of gloating over the death of an enemy could lead to more problems for our troops down the road. And really, I'd rather not put our soldiers in any more danger than they're already in.

I told Noah that, if he had been over there when they found bin Laden, I would have been on the phone with my senators faster than you could say "jackrabbit," telling them on no uncertain terms that they would absolutely not agree to releasing those photos. Hell no.

I'm going to continue to buy sandwiches for homeless vets. They put themselves in harm's way for us, and a sandwich is the least I can do. And I'll probably continue to get upset by TV episodes (like Law and Order or Bones) that use fictionalized events involving dead soldiers.

I guess it hits a little too close to home for me these days.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On the Death of Osama bin Laden

(Note: I wrote this in response to something my pastor posted on our church blog, "The Comma.")

My first reaction was one of disbelief. They got him? They actually got him? The boogie man the government has been warning us about for 20 years? The one who caused so much heartache and grief on 9/11? Wow.

I never felt any joy at his death.

And then I suddenly felt empty. It was like the wind got knocked out of me. As the president came on television, I found myself starting to cry. Maybe there was a little bit of closure with this news, but I'd much rather they'd caught him, brought him back alive, and put him through the American justice system. Let him be judged by a jury of his peers before he is judged by God. Because I want to know why. Why did Osama bin Laden direct terrorists to fly planes into the Twin Towers? What have we done to deserve this? And how do we make it right?

And the ideal sentence? Not death, but life in prison in a cell with a television where the pictures and stories of the ones he's killed flash over and over again. The families of the 3000 killed on September 11th are awaiting their own reconciliation.

How do we even begin to talk about reconciliation with people who don't listen? How do we begin to reach out to those whose hearts are filled with such hate?

I remember quite vividly where I was on September 11th. That event was nothing like anything I had ever experienced. I had just begun my sophomore year of college. Never had I felt that the world was so off balance. We gathered together on a big field at Whitman, holding hands in a circle and singing "Amazing Grace." We sang and sang until it grew late, and the circle grew smaller, and one by one we trickled back to our dorms. We left the candles burning.

That event, more than anything, has defined the conditions in which I have lived my adult life. It led to restrictions at the airport, a heightened sense of fear, surveillance, the persecution of Muslims, the persecution of anyone who dared to question the Bush administration's actions, the Patriot Act, and war. In a way, the terrorists won. We altered how we live our lives. The death of Osama bin Laden doesn't change the last nine years. We can't go back to our normal lives. I wish that we could. I don't like living my life feeling like I'm supposed to look over my shoulder, in fear those around me. I don't like it that it's socially acceptable for an American woman at the Dublin airport to get my attention, point at a man in a turban, and whisper "I hope and pray he's not on our flight." My own stunned reaction was to tell her (in my normal speaking voice) that I didn't see anything wrong with a man wearing a turban.

I wish we, as a nation, could take time to reflect. I wanted to be with others last night -- not to rejoice, but to have a conversation. What do we do now? How do we move forward? How do we address the conditions that fuel terrorism in the first place? There is deep disparity in this world. And I believe that there will always be people who hate Americans for what we represent. How do we meet that hate with reconciling love? How do we change our country and our policies back to something we can be more proud of?

Because I'm tired of constant vigilance. I'm tired of surveillance. I'm tired of the culture of fear that has sprung up all around me. That was not the culture I thought I'd exit into after graduating from college.

Most of all, though, I'm tired of being told that I'm supposed to be afraid.