Saturday, August 29, 2009

Heroes v. Humans

"What are these two coming over tonight- are they Republicans or Democrats?" So asked my friend's 86-year-old dad before we arrived for dinner this evening.

"They're Independents, Dad," my friend replied, and that seemed to mollify him. Seems they had been watching Edward Kennedy's funeral all day, and he was in a bit of a lather about it. He suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and so day to day, even minute to minute, working memory is a challenge for him, but, believe me, he knows he despises Ted Kennedy. A retired USAF general, he told us several times tonight about an altercation he had with Senator Kennedy in a washroom in the capitol over thirty-five years ago. Harsh words echoed off tiled walls as the two men disagreed.

I am nowhere close to an Independent, but the older I get, the more interested I am in the opinions of people who disagree with me, especially in a safe situation like this evening. There was no chance of a confrontation; we were content to listen to an old man rant. "What really gets me," he told us more than once, "is that I've known a lot of people who have given as much or more to this country as he has." He tilted his chin toward the television where the funeral procession was crossing Memorial Bridge on its way into Arlington Cemetery. "I was there at the end for them, and they got nothing near all this." He waved at the TV in exasperation. "I'm sorry he's dead, but the guy was a son of a bi..." Here he lowered his voice and looked at us meaningfully. "Pardon my language, but he was. I knew him, you know." We nodded politely.

I thought about it, and I wondered if maybe it wasn't the memorial events themselves that he objected to, but rather their broadcast on TV. People die, funerals happen, but sometimes the press coverage makes it seem that some deaths are more important than others. The corollary, of course, is that some lives are more valuable than others, which seems counter to democracy. How glaring that discrepancy must be to one who lost respect for the fallen in, of all places, a restroom.

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