What Goes Around…

Recently, I came home to see news footage of Tomahawk missiles being launched from US Navy destroyers. We were bombing an airfield in Syria from which gas attacks were supposedly launched on Syrian citizens by their own government. If true, this was an atrocity at the level of attempted genocide. I watched, appalled, but for additional reasons.

I remembered back to the time when I was in the US Navy. I was an Operations Specialist on the USS HIGGINS (DDG-76). It was March, 2003. We were at the northern tip of the Arabian (Persian) Gulf, as close to Iraq as we could legally get. Part of my duty was to serve on our Tomahawk Team, which would be called upon to launch our load-out of Tomahawk missiles into Iraq. I remember pressing the button that first night that launched one of our missiles. I remember watching them explode out of our launchers. I remember as we were glued to CNN watching Baghdad erupt in explosions. Worst of all, I remember cheering with my shipmates as we watched Baghdad burn.

We never thought about the Iraqi who were caught in the crossfire. We never thought of the innocents who suffered because of our actions. We never thought of the families whose homes were destroyed because of our missiles. We were hitting strategic targets. Our Tomahawks are meticulously accurate. There was no collateral damage.

Boy, were we wrong.

A few years ago, I met a lovely Iraqi family who began coming to our church. This family is the kindest, happiest, most loving family I’ve met in a long time. They were always smiling, offering warm hugs and handshakes, and praising God and Jesus Christ as often as they could. I looked forward to seeing them at our church. I found myself invested in their lives. I care about them.

One Sunday, our Corps Officer (pastor) brought them to the front and began to tell their story. He told us how “Operation: Shock and Awe” destroyed their home and forced them to leave Iraq. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I thought back to pressing that button. I remembered our revelries. I thought about how we celebrated as their home burned. I wondered: Was mine the missile that destroyed their home? I’ll never know. All I know is that I participated in the event that wiped out their home and made them expatriates.

I try to rationalize it. I try to tell myself that they’re better now in America. Maybe they are. But what did they feel that night, when the world exploded around them? How much fear did they experience as they ran for their lives? I’ll never know. I’ll never know what it feels like to be an enemy in my own country. All I know, and all I will ever know, is that I danced while their home burned. Does that make me like Emperor Nero? God, I hope not.

Every day, I live with this guilt. Every day, I wonder how many other families are like theirs. Every day, I ask for forgiveness for the part I played. I was following orders when I pressed the button. I wasn’t following orders when I cheered. I have no excuse. I can only beg for forgiveness when my judgment comes.

To Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II

Your Majesty,

I hope this letter finds you well and in good health. As I am sure you are aware, the state of our nation is a precarious one, at best. This has led me to ponder our former relationship. I wonder, can it be salvaged? In other words:

Please, for the love of God and all things holy, take us back.

In hindsight, we may have overreacted when we threw that tea into the harbor. In all fairness, it was really good tea. We had no business smuggling tea into the colonies just to avoid a 1% surcharge. What’s 1% among friends and family? And if you were a little heavy handed with us, well, all we had to do was wait for a successor to the throne. Look at some of the great monarchs we missed: Queen Victoria, King George VI, and yourself. Instead, we’ve trapped ourselves into a corrupt constitutional republic we pass off as a democracy to pacify our citizens that has taxed us to an unlivable point. Have you seen what we call politics lately? We’ve become a laughing stock.

Not only will you get back the original 13 colonies who left you, you’ll be getting 37 more than you had before. Do whatever you want with them. Sell Florida back to the Spanish; I doubt they’ll notice. Make Maine and Massachusetts one colony again. No one should live in either place, anyway. Plus, we’ll keep an eye on those shady Canadians for you, or they can keep an eye on us. Truth be told, we have no business keeping an eye on anyone these days.

We admit we screwed up. We thought we could do things ourselves and be better off without you. We see now just how utterly wrong we were. We’ve made a huge mess of ourselves. We need you back in our lives to make us better. We know we’re in an ugly state right now, but with your help, we’ll be back in shape in no time. All we ask is that you let us keep college football, Disneyland, Disney World, and San Diego Comic-Con International. As for the rest, feel free scrap it all and start over.

Please, we’re begging you, consider our proposal. Right now, we’re the sad ex standing in the rain holding a bouquet of flowers hoping you’ll take us back. We’re Lloyd Dobler standing in the park with the boom box over our head.

We’re sorry. We’re so terribly, deeply sorry.

Sincerely,

A Deeply Troubled and Contrite United States of America

PS: God save the Queen.

A Constant Sorrow

IMG_0591“Leave me alone,” he said to no one in particular. He wasn’t sure why he said it. He hadn’t spoken aloud in years. Had someone touched him? Impossible. He couldn’t remember the last time he had physical contact with another human being.

He was OK with that.

He’d fled from humanity decades ago. He remembered the agony of being among people. It was greater that agoraphobia or xenophobia. He desperately craved solitude. The silence comforted him. He was far from lonely. He was content to sit in his favorite chair and watch life go by outside his window. He loved that chair, the way its cushions conformed to body. He didn’t so much sit in it as he melted into it and became part of it. As he sat there, he could feel his sense of self drift away, until he was nothing but a floating sense of consciousness.

It was bliss.

Occasionally, however, there was the nightmare. A wild, violent nightmare, which shook him to his core.

Of course, he was never alone in his nightmares. Just the presence of another terrified him. Not only was he not alone, he was in a crowd of people.

Leave me alone.

Everyone was packed in shoulder-to-shoulder with no room to move and barely room to breathe.

Leave. Me. Alone!

The worst part of it was that all of their attention was focused on him. An infinite number of eyes stared at him. An infinite number of hands reached out to touch him. He couldn’t stop the touching. There was nowhere to go. Their rancid breath in his face made him vomit. They were undeterred. Whatever he said, whatever he did, they wanted more. Wherever he tried to go, they were there.

LEAVE ME ALONE!

Inevitably, he woke up. The nightmare was soon just a terrible memory. He would seek the familiar comfort of his chair and resume his reverie. Soon, his heartbeat slowed to normal, then almost nothing. His breathing slowed until he almost didn’t need to.

Sometimes, in what was almost a moment of clarity, he wondered if his nightmare was actually his reality. What if he really was in that room? What if they were really pressing into him? What if this is really the dream? He allowed himself a small shudder at the passing thought. It was a small miracle that he even allowed the synapse that formed the thought to fire in his brain. No, he knew what was real. He knew what was real.


“He said it again, doctor.”

The nurse hovered cautiously over the seemingly catatonic patient. Normally, when he uttered that phrase, he was thrashing violently. He almost broke his restraints on more than one occasion. This time, however, he was calm. No one had even touched him. Could he be aware of their presence?

“Any change in his scans?”

The doctor looked over the chart curiously, if somewhat impatiently. Over the years, he’d grown tired of this patient. The patient had been there for decades. His outbursts were growing more and more violent. Now, the patient was showing small signs of consciousness. Was there something there? Maybe. Who would he tell if there were? The patient’s family had long since died or moved on. No one called about him. No one e-mailed about him. Not one letter came for him.

This man was completely alone.