Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Forever 58

I have imagined my father many ways in the 23 years since he died. I have seen him sitting in a high school football stadium or gymnasium cheering on his sport-playing grandsons.  I have watched him pouring over Google like he did the World Book Encyclopedia collection back in the day.  I have pictured him celebrating births, graduations, weddings, and jobs...all brought to him by four busy daughters and their families.  I have wistfully allowed myself to conjure up an image of him holding my mother's hand in a hospital room, a church pew, on the back porch...

I have imagined him delighted and devastated, angry and elated, proud and pensive.

What I cannot imagine is my dad at 82.

Today is the 82nd anniversary of my father's birth. He died at 58...handsome, vibrant, essential...and now, frozen in time. Last year, on this day, I officially surpassed - in actual days lived on the planet - the age of my father.  Today, I have breathed the Earth's air one year and one day longer than he ever had a chance to.  That's weird.

My beautiful mother, who thankfully did make it to 82 in July, does not like to be reminded of this day. She has not remarried, and will tell you she is forever wed to my father, even though death did decidedly part them in 1990.  She will also tell you she is still a bit angry with the guy who checked out early, left a beautiful corpse (her words), and abandoned her to age alone.   Who can blame the woman?

The family has agreed, in many conversations over the years, that there are worse things than death.  My father would have been miserable attached to an oxygen tank, for instance.  He did not love pills or visits to doctors.  He would certainly have resisted (and likely ignored) any restrictions from his favorite things...like 36 holes of golf on a Saturday followed by hot dogs and peanuts at an Astros game.  It is easy to imagine him being a tad grouchy if oxygen and pills and doctors and restrictions had been his life for the last 23 years.

But oh how I love trying to think about him being old and stubborn and cantankerous...or old and easy and completely satisfied with life.  The tricky part is old.

Malcolm Cook was lovely in almost every way.  Strong, supportive, generous, fun-loving, life-embracing...

And, sadly, forever 58.

Happy Birthday Dad...I wish we'd known you now.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

On Second Thought

I - like so many US citizens - have been thinking an awful lot about Syria.

Because I believed in 2008 I voted for an intelligent, peace-loving man to lead our country, I have taken seriously President Obama's concern over the role of the US government in making an attention-getting response to the horrific unfolding of Syria's internal struggle for control of her destiny.  (The People of Syria vs Bashar al-Assad, I suppose - if one could boil down the awfulness that's terrified Syrians for over two years to something that sounds a bit like a video game.)

I thought, perhaps, one of those targeted bombings, that have been analyzed to pieces in recent days via every news outlet, might be the right thing to do.  It sounded like a plausible way to stand fast against chemical weaponry and keep the people of Syria mostly safe.  I was beginning to let my peacenik self be persuaded that a little muscle flexing in the direction of Bashar al-Assad couldn't hurt.

I also could not shake the echo of words from a Palestinian friend, who, in the late 1990s lamented to me, Why won't anyone ever help us?

I was feeling ready to stand with the President on this one.

Then, today, I listened to people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham talk about an urgent military situation and national reputation saving and upping our game... and the rattling of their swords woke me up.  Any bomb is targeted.  All bombs are an act of war.

And I am absolutely opposed to war.

Here's a map of Syria if you haven't yet taken one out to see where the focus of our national attention sits in the neighborhood of Arab nations:

It's right in the middle of a Who's Who list of the Middle East that makes the heart of a Pacifist ache and the trigger finger of a Hawk itch.  Turkey to the North, Iraq to the East, Israel to the West. Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan all within throwing distance.  Looking at this map makes me want to lock arms with my closest friends and walk quickly into oblivion chanting, "Lions and tigers and bears - oh my!"

But before I burrowed my head into the sand of the yellow brick road, I wanted to see the people of Syria - to find images of a few of the 22-million people who live in a country one-third the land size of my home state of Texas. The people upon whose ears the words chemical weapons and strategic military strikes and God, Syria, Freedom! sound like the roar of a locomotive speeding toward them on a high speed rail.  Here they are in all their beautiful normal-ness.

I am grateful for images that remind me we are talking about people when we talk about acts of war...not just tanks or airplanes or ships at sea.  We are talking about schools and hospitals and grocery stores and coffee shops and children and mothers and fathers and families that love one another and know nothing, quite often, but the home they have in the country we decide needs to see our big military muscle.

So...on second thought...I'm against it.  Fully. 100% opposed.  I hope Congress and NATO and the UN all say no to Barack Obama.

And by the way, there seems to be no lack of evidence that most of the world - China and Russia excepted - believe Bashar al-Assad and his people need to get the heck out of Syria.  Some folks I admire a lot share this opinion - Kofi Annan is high on that list. So, naturally, I had to get a look at the focus of such concern.  Here he is - Syrian President Bashar Assad - in all his monster-ness:

And here's his beautiful wife:

They seem to be real people too.

Shallow as it may seem in the shadow of such Big World Problems, I keep thinking about a scene from this week's Breaking Bad episode.  Marie is sitting with her counselor, lost in dreams of poisoning Walt...you know...to protect her family. Here's what the counselor says to her:

Marie, listen.  There is no problem, no matter how difficult or painful or seemingly unsolvable that violence won't make worse.

And that's what I'm writing to the President.