Ground Zero

I was worried yesterday morning that I would be so busy in the clinic that I wouldn’t be able to catch any of the inauguration. As it turned out, many of my patients failed to show (hmmm…perhaps it was too cold, or maybe they had something on TV they wanted to watch?), so I did see a good bit of it, including the swearing-in ceremony, on the television in the break room. And even in those moments when I was tied to my desk, there was good, ol’ reliable NPR.

During one lull in the action, I poured myself yet another cup o’ Joe and sat down to watch as the Presidential motorcade made its way to The Capital Building while a million onlookers, quivering from the cold and bold expectations, formed a happy guantlet whose only weapons were shouts of jubilation flung with reckless abandon.

As I watched, J., a co-worker of some 16 years, walked in. He looked at the TV, and then at me, and scowled.

His first words dripped with venom: “I’m not watching that. I don’t see any reason to celebrate that!

I’d heard similar sentiments in other places, but not with that much force and emotion.

“I don’t know,” I replied, realizing full well that I was now treading in a mine field. “I think even if you didn’t vote for him, you could still appreciate the way we do things on a day like today: the pageantry, the tradition, the peaceful transition of power and all.”

“No,” he said, “I didn’t vote for him. I don’t believe in what he stands for: abortion and homosexuals and all that. I think this is all a big mistake and people are going to realize it soon enough.”

I couldn’t resist. “So for you, it had to be a Republican, right?”

“No, I’m an independent!” (Highly unlikely, but I didn’t press.)

This man has a bachelor’s degree in history, is a Christian of the charismatic kind and knows his Bible backwards and forwards. So I asked, “But you are going to pray for him, right?”

“Hmmph! Well, he’s certainly going to need some prayers!”

“But are you going to pray for him?” I pressed.

“I don’t have to pray for a Muslim!” he replied, his voice now rising.

As a doctor, I’ve learned that when talking to a patient, I usually go through a few moments of polite chatter and red herrings before I finally arrive at the real reason for the visit. More often than not, it’s the third item on the list.

The two of us had arrived at that point. I like to call it “Ground Zero.”

Tip-toeing carefully now, and with a quiet, steady voice, I said, “J., I don’t think he’s a Muslim. But even if he was, shouldn’t we still pray for him?”

J. stared at me, his cheeks turning a bright red, his fingers flexing, forming a fist. I looked into his eyes, brimming with tears now, and I saw the kind of fear normally reserved for that sudden, unexpected moment when one looks up and sees The Reaper a’comin’ to collect his due.

He turned and started down the hall, but not before calling out over his shoulder, half-shouting, “He is a Muslim, and you and everyone else are going to find that out soon enough!”

I was shaken; it’s unnerving watching a friend who is normally calm and gentle come unhinged like that.  I realized anew that for many, the campaign was far from over, but in fact, was just beginning.

I’ve stood in silence at the real Ground Zero, the one where Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, believers and non-believers of every tribe, stripe and color perished together in an inferno of hate and fear.

And now I stood at another. I topped off my coffee, shook my head a few times and blinked, trying my best to move on as I watched the motorcade reach The Capital where a million onlookers, caught up in the joy of the moment, cheered in hopeful expectation.

  1. Jeff Slater

    That’s sad. I occasionally run into people like that. I didn’t vote for President Obama, but I made sure to watch his inauguration yesterday. It was great to have the opportunity to witness history! I didn’t get to see the part of the parade where the President and First lady get out of the limo and walk — I always enjoy that.

    President Obama seems like a good man, and I hope he does what’s best for the country. I am hoping against hope that deep down he’s really a supply-side guy! 🙂

  2. JRB

    Someday, that cat’s going to have his tank beated beaten down into a tractor.

  3. JRB

    (You see, I couldn’t hit “stop” fast enough to catch my typo, which qualifies me to be CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES!)

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    The comedy of errors and miscues continues!

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    I was in the process of fixing the first comment when the second one came in. I thought it was the same as the first, so I zapped it.

  6. Mike the Eyeguy

    Note to all: JRB’s reputation as a master of the King’s English remains intact.

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    Jeff–I think he’s going to pleasantly surprise and upset ideologues on both ends of the spectrum.

    I hope.

  8. kristiS

    To be fair to Chief Justice Roberts, Obama did jump the gun a bit during the swearing in and I’m sure that it makes it difficult to do your part if the other party involved messes his up slightly. However, just like I said on Facebook, “If you’re going to be gauche enough to mock Obama for being excited about becoming President, then you should at least use correct grammar.” Actually, it was much shorter than that because they don’t give you enough characters on your Facebook status.

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    You tried to fit all that in your Facebook status?

    Allow me to quote from Strunk and White:

    “Omit needless words!” 🙂

  10. JRB

    That doesn’t necessarily mean “use few words,” but just to make sure the words we use are fruitful.

  11. kristiS

    I’m stuck on the couch. Facebook and reruns of Gilmore Girls are my only entertainment until my lunch lady arrives. Besides, I love the word gauche and felt it needed to be used.

  12. Mike the Eyeguy

    JRB–Agreed. But it is worth noting that those three words-only-comprised an entire chapter of the book!

    kS–You’ve got a “G” theme going today.

  13. Laurie

    My mother-in-law is, sadly, in the grip of the same toxic emailers and has adopted at least some of their thought processes. It’s sad, but she’s old, and a little lonely, and these kinds of people are certainly more prolific emailers than her friends and family. It’s a toxic connection, but it is a connection.

    Early in the campaign, my husband had to say, “We love you, but if you keep forwarding these things, you’re going to alienate your entire family.” So she stopped, for the most part, and forwarded only the things that frightened her most — things that several family members, including me, would do our best to calmly and rationally debunk. (The little devil in me always made sure I hit “Reply All.”)

    We’ve gotten to the point where we can have a sense of humor about it. Yesterday she and my husband were talking about the inauguration, and she said, “Well. There sure were a lot of…black people there.” My husband said, “Yeah, they’re really gonna hafta watch them, too, or else they’ll take all the silver.” She said, “You’re just making fun of me.” He said, “Yes, mom, I am.” They both laughed.

    We don’t imagine she’ll change at this stage in life, but we do what we can to sow little seeds of doubt.

    You handled your situation with love, and probably with far more calmness and compassion than I would have. Well done.

  14. Laurie

    Aargh! Just to clarify, that last bit was not my husband making up racist things to say! It came from a “joke” (using the term loosely) that was making the email rounds from the Obama-haters.

  15. Mike the Eyeguy

    Understood fully, no clarification necessary. 🙂

    And a good anecdote as well.

  16. dunderwood

    I didn’t vote for Obama, but I think it was a great day for our country. I pray for our President, no matter what party he or she belongs to. I have lived in third world countries, and it is beyond their imagination to see how our country makes the transition of power from one party to the next! What a blessing!

  17. Mike the Eyeguy

    “I have lived in third world countries, and it is beyond their imagination to see how our country makes the transition of power from one party to the next! What a blessing!”

    Exactly. And for someone to churlishly and childishly discount the solemnity and legitimacy of the process just because “their man” didn’t win is turn one’s back on that blessing.

    Yesterday, Number Three’s sophomore American History class was watching the inauguration, their teacher, an ardent McCain supporter, narrating.

    A couple of students made some extremely inappropriate, beyond the pale remarks as to their wishes for an Obama presidency (you can put 2+2 together).

    The teacher, a Kansas-bred Republican through and through, squashed them like insects, calling their careless remarks by their proper name–treason.

  18. Mike the Eyeguy

    A note posted by my friend Jan on the Facebook link to this post:

    “I will definitely pray for him. He did win by the majority, even though he wasn’t who I’d have picked, either. I’m hoping that we will see more unity, less “entitlement attitudes” and better bipartisanship in the congress.”

  19. kdeats

    I always wonder how someone like you are talking about are christians and yet hold so much hatred in their hearts. It really baffles me. All it does is eat the person up inside that hates. Maya Angelou put it well. The only person that gets hurt is the one who hates. Because half the people you hate don’t know you hate them the other half don’t care. Someone has every right to dislike someone but hate is a strong word. I can’t quite put into words what I think. Having trouble getting it from head to computer. It makes me wonder and question…

  20. Mike the Eyeguy

    This person is not usually hateful. On the contrary, he is normally a very kind and gentle man.

    That’s why his reaction surprised me so much. The visceral emotionalism of it was out of proportion to any sort of principled opposition to President Obama and his politics (I’ve always said that a principled conservative could oppose him based on his obviously liberal views without resorting to personal attacks and lies).

    It came from somewhere else–the lower brain. And the fact that so-called “men of God” using the Bible for purposes for which it was never intended had most likely stirred him to such anger and disgust is why, these days, I refer to myself as a “reluctant Christian.”

  21. Laurie

    “Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

    This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”

    Gosh. How heretical and unAmerican.

  22. Mike the Eyeguy

    Don’t be fooled, Laurie. It’s some kind of code, probably a signal for “GIVE ME YOUR MONEY, YOUR WOMEN, AND YOUR CHILDREN” or something like that.

  23. Hal

    Great post. I think you handled that very well. I hate to see people be so critical at an inauguration. To be fair, though, I think it is equally distasteful to “boo” an outgoing President. And I’ve seen and heard plenty of that in the past few days.

  24. Mike the Eyeguy

    Hal, you know me well, and you know that I’m nothing if not fair. I totally agree.

    It is certainly possible to clap softly (or not at all) and keep one’s mouth shut in such situations. I’ve done it many times.

  25. Mike the Eyeguy

    Also, the Obamas’ extreme graciousness shown toward the Bushes that morning was stark counterpoint to the classless partisan booing at such a solemn and important occasion.

    Here’s hoping more Obama supporters follow their lead.

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