My friends and I were on our way home after school. Today the bombing was far away and we decided to walk over to a nearby store to buy some cigarettes (their habit, not mine). We walked into the store to find the owner under the counter.
”What are you idiots doing? Don’t you know there are snipers out there!” Get down!
The neighborhood had seemed unusually quiet, but we hadn’t seen any signs of recent violence or heard any shots. Being brave and cocky seventeen year olds, we laughed at the old man, resolving secretly to be more alert upon our exit than we had been upon our entry.
We left the store, our eyes scanning the surrounding buildings. My friends broke into a run to cross the street and reach cover. I lagged behind, deciding to brazen it out…I didn’t think there were snipers still out there anyway. My friends made cover on the opposite side of the street, screaming at me to run, run. I was determined to cross in calm measured steps. The hell with the snipers if they were there. I would not be intimidated.
Three steps away from the building façade that marked the end of the street I stopped long enough to raise my right arm and right middle finger to the skies. I took one more step and the wall in front of me burst into fragments and dust as a line of bullets blew out a section of concrete. The sniper had been timing my derisively measured steps. Had I not paused to flip him off, I would have been at that wall when the bullets arrived.
Then I ran. The next time it happened (and it did happen again), I ran again…like everybody else.
This story was told to me last night by Vic, a forty year old man who had grown up in Beirut. His wife, Christina, was from Lebanon as well. They told stories like this all night… recounting horror after horror, each one worse than the next – bombings, rocket fire, exploding buildings, bodies in the street, people literally blown to pieces before their eyes and everywhere the chaotic, routine sounds of gunfire, sirens, human misery.
All this over bow-tie pasta, Ahi Tuna and Chinese Chicken Salad at the local Claim Jumper.
These friends of mine live in the same sleepy Southern California suburb that I do. They shop at Ralphs and Vons and Albertsons like the rest of us. We occasionally meet for dinner or to take in a movie at the local multiplex. We talk about the weather, that clown
in the White House, our work, our kids and how difficult every age is – not just the twos or the sevens or (shudder) adolescence.
And we talk about perspective. Human perspective. I never had to hide from snipers in piles of rubble that still smoked from the previous days bombardment. I never had a bullet whiz past my head, ricochet off the classroom walls and drop spent in the corner by the blackboard. I never had to look at a dead body or (on my way to school) walk past torn arms and legs strewn on the sidewalk after an explosion or see someone cut down in the streets by hot shrapnel and automatic weapons fire. Never.
My friends lived with that every day. And, I don’t know…I keep thinking that if we all really came to terms with the cost of our apparently limitless penchant for aggression; our immense, all-consuming hubris; our often appalling greed; our seemingly instinctive willingness to discount all levels of experience and expression and thought that are either “uncomfortable” or just simply not our own; that we might gain just a little insight and perspective…and the world just might be a better place.
Yeah. I know. Pie in the sky. Overly (and overtly) simplistic. Unrealistic. Tree-hugging. Weak. Impossible.
Maybe not. But we could start by not being so afraid – afraid of things and situations and ideas and people that are different. Not wrong. Not inferior. Not evil. Not threatening.
Think about it.