Never Simple…

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep it hit me. The name of the doc with the offensive (to me) literature in his waiting room is the same as the young woman killed in the Iraq war for whom our tiny little Veterans Park is named. “Could it be?” I couldn’t sleep without knowing so I did 3 minutes of research.


Anyone FROM this small town or the region would have known who that man was before they walked into that office. Of course, I COULD have known it, but it was a lot less likely.

Now my poor brain is swarming with ethical questions I can’t answer. One thing it explains why the magazines that were NOT Newsmax were veterans or patriot literature. Honestly, it’s excruciating thinking of that dad having lost his daughter. His office is two blocks from the memorial. In her name — some time back and I don’t know if it’s still active — a memorial fund-raiser to provide companion dogs to people who need them, definitely a Martha kind of charity.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand how it is to be from here and, from the first moment of your life, be SOMEBODY to the people around you. Anonymity is the name-of-the-game (ha ha) for life in the Big City.

So what we have here is a nice guy (he was very nice and personable to me on the phone) with a tragic memory and a waiting room that reflects emotions I can’t understand. Yeah, I understand grief, and I understand anger. Those are a couple of old “friends.” But what makes a person espouse the kind of stuff published in Newsmax? To make sure I knew what IS published in Newsmax I looked at it. It’s simply (from what I’ve seen) the news as reported by other agencies but with a strong, right-wing, pro-Trump spin. The news published is definitely slanted, but not really inaccurate. It’s less inflammatory than their video media. Newsmax has clung to the “big lie” only now settling a lawsuit with Dominion voting machines after suing them for fraud. Media like this furthers the “us vs. them” rhetoric that has been so destructive to the union, the “‘they’ are trying to tear down America” line. “They” is me and no one likes that.

If I hadn’t entered that waiting room with a pre-existing bias or knowledge about the genre of periodical, and I had just picked one up, I would have scoffed, but probably not been offended. I wouldn’t have thought much of the doc, though. I would have gone into the exam thinking, “Seriously?”

But what if?

Across the golf course from me is the OTHER father — Mr. M. — who lost a child in that war. I used to see him pretty often and he LOVED Dusty T. Dog. We’ve had a lot of nice conversations. Apropos of THIS story is his politics. His yard displayed one of the few Biden signs in Monte Vista. Do I think he is a “better guy” than the doc? Yeah but he probably isn’t. These are two men with broken hearts who have turned in different directions, but they are friends. The poster advertising the memorial fund for Mr. M’s son was posted on the doc’s door.

Then, of course, my own experiences with that war and its veterans. No, I didn’t lose a child, but I taught many, many young people who returned severely damaged from that debacle. I remember very well watching — with my students — that initial attack on Baghdad, the outrage I and one of my students — an Irish guy — felt and the exhilaration some of the other students felt. I remember the Navy and Marine guys who were in my class who, I knew, would be sent over there. I remember a young woman who dropped out to join the Marines. We had some intense conversations before she made that decision. She came back three years later, mobbed out for PTSD. She was so mentally addled that just a quiz in class stressed her out so bad she had migraines and uncontrollable shakes. There was the young man who served three tours as a sniper. He’d joined up with his best pal who died right beside him one night. This student was wracked by the knowledge that he had interfered in the lives of people who had every right to make their own decisions. He wrote a long long long essay detailing the changes in his mental state during the 9 years he served. “But Martha, the only job for me is probably in the Secret Service or something. The only thing I do well is shoot.”

I have more grim anecdotes about young people returning from the Iraq war and Afghanistan, but that’s probably plenty. A lot is said about the “ultimate sacrifice,” but after those experiences, I’m not sure what that is. And in these cases, these two fathers made (IMO) the ultimate sacrifice. And, unlike them I might wonder what the sacrifice was for? Maybe they wonder, too. I’m sure they’d rather have their kids.

I don’t know.

I can’t begin to figure this out. I don’t even think it’s my job. I want to find a nice anonymous optometry chain where I can be relatively sure of my values not being part of the conversation or decision.

Dr. Mueller

“Fair is for soccer,” said the Intro to Religious Studies professor. He said this every semester, maybe to every freshman class he taught. There are things that must be said to university freshmen, and that’s one of them. “Don’t expect ‘fairness’ out of life.”

“Yeah, but…” sputtered a long-haired blonde girl in the front row.

“There’s no ‘yeah, but.’ It’s how it is. Fairness is something humans have made up. It’s why we have laws.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” said a kid in the third row from the left, toward the back.

“It doesn’t? Why not?” asked the Prof.

“Justice comes from God.”

“Does it? Tell that to the mother of the baby born dead. Tell that to the family whose husband/father is killed by a drunk driver. There are plenty of people who believe God ‘did’ that to punish those people. Is that what you mean but ‘justice comes from God’?”

“Well, the 10 Commandments.”

“Law. Those are laws.”

“But they came from God.”

“They came from someone who didn’t want to give his name.” The professor smiled. This is how it went every semester. “Anyway, law is our attempt to create fairness in an unfair world where some people are just plain luckier than others.”

“I don’t believe in luck.”

“You don’t think you’re lucky to have a chance to study at a university while that mentally retarded guy two doors down from you is lucky to tie his own shoes? You don’t think that’s luck?”

“I didn’t think of that.”

“Maybe human ethicsĀ means we’reĀ able to equalize the unfair portions of luck just a little bit. Let’s say you discover, through your time here at the university, that you want to do research on the human brain or you want to be a social worker or teach special ed. Any one of those things could change the life of that mentally retarded guy two doors down for the better. Your luck could improve someone else’s. That is higher justice. See what I’m saying?”

“There’s no law that says I have to help that guy, Professor.”

“No, there’s no law. Laws are for the lowest common denominator of human behavior. The laws forbid you from hurting him and tell you that you’ll be punished if you do. There is no law that says you must help him. There can’t be.”

“Why not?”

“That’s a question I want you to answer in your journals for Monday. I look forward to finding them in my office by 9 am.”


P.S. Dr. Mueller is/was a real professor. His lectures were so well delivered, so animated and engaging, that I used to sit in on them. Lecturing was not my strong point as a teacher, but it was a necessary evil especially in the beginning of a semester. I saw this dialogue play out three or four times and it always amazed me.