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#38 Tsunami Relief, Roadside Bombs, and Eating New-Born Puppies

Originally published on FEBRUARY 07, 2005

 

TSUNAMI RELIEF, ROADSIDE BOMBS, and EATING NEW-BORN PUPPIES

Last night I was at the local cultural center, a cigar store on the Boulevard downtown, and the question came up about the Pope’s hospitalization. There is a rumor going about in Mexican intellectual circles that the Pope is not sick, but was hospitalized by his cardinals so that he does not have to receive U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. I had no opinion on the matter.

Walking toward home in the dark about 9pm, I called my wife on my cell phone and asked if she wanted to meet me someplace to eat tacos. She said yes. We made arrangements. It’s a two-mile walk from the cigar store to our house. She would wait fifteen minutes, then leave the house and we would meet up somewhere in the middle.

Twenty minutes later she called to say that she was still at the house. One of our Chihuahuas had given birth to a puppy while I was still there. After I left she gave birth to another. Now my wife was telling me that the mommy had eaten her first puppy, and that she was afraid she might eat the other. I said I would go directly to the house.

Walking as fast as I could in the dark, on the broken walks, I felt terribly distressed. I felt a deep sense of loss, almost of tragedy. I wanted to get something for the puppy to eat if we had to separate it from its mother. I crossed the Boulevard to the little Frontera market. Neighborhood Mexican markets do not sell even cream. There was nothing there at all. I felt helpless and full of anxiety.

I found the manager and explained the situation. He said he had nothing for just-born puppies, but suggested we tie the bitch’s mouth shut, untying it only when we fed her. A good, sensible idea. I started to the house again walking as fast as I could walk. Earlier I had walked from the house to downtown, and now I was walking back. A four-mile round trip. Not so easy for me any longer. But I felt driven.

When I got to the house my wife had figured it out. She had warmed some chicken broth, put some kibbles in it, and fed that to the mother. They mother ate and drank everything. I felt as if a tragedy had been avoided. When our daughter came in, she agreed to set her alarm clock to wake her every two hours during the night so she could feed the mother, and see that the puppy was okay.

Now it’s Sunday morning and we are following our routines. My wife has left for church. Paloma is taking care of the animals (we have six dogs now, and five cats). I’m watching television. CNN, Tim Russert, the little Greek fellow Stephanopolis, and the fast-talking Irish guy. Usually I can remember their names. This morning none of those people are to be had. On CNN, and on the networks, it’s all sports. This afternoon it will be the Super Bowl.

On CNN there’s a Tsunami relief rock concert someplace in the Far East. I think. Musicians I am not familiar with. Alicia Keyes is fronting the gig. She’s very beautiful, but gaining weight. They all want to help.

I remember very clearly when I heard the first reports of the great Indian Ocean tsunami. It was already being reported that there were thousands of dead and missing. At that time, thought did not turn to the tragedy being shown me on the television screen, but produced unbidden, and unwanted, an image from Al Jazeera where an American armored vehicle, probably a Bradley, is blown up in a tremendous roadside explosion. I’ve been to a couple wars and have seen what you see in war, but the size of the fireball surprised me.

As I watched those first filmed tsunami reports, the deeply affecting loss I felt was not for the dead and those dying at that moment in the lands around the Indian Ocean, but for the handful of Americans in one vehicle blown up by Iraqi insurgents weeks before.

Over a period of two years I had seen hundreds of images picturing the results of Iraqi suicide bombers, and of American bombing runs, and the fighting in general, but this was the first shot I had seen of Americans being blown away. It was riveting. There must be many such images available. Similar images were used by Hezbollah as they were killing Israeli military in Lebanon a few years ago. The images drove Israeli families crazy, and drove the Israelis out of Lebanon.

The Americans will not be driven from Iraq by mere images. The Americans have banned Al Jazeera from Iraq, and the American networks have effectively banned all Arab produced television from American TV. That’s how American democracy, and American freedom, work.

Watching CNN this morning and the musicians playing their hearts out for the victims of the great Indian Ocean tsunami, I am aware that last night I felt more deeply about our Chihuahua bitch eating her first-born than I did about all the death, destruction, and suffering caused by the tsunami. I’ve relaxed about the puppy. I remain relaxed about the tsunami.

I feel a deeper sense of loss for the handful of Americans who were blasted to their deaths in one armored vehicle by a roadside bomb, than I do for the 15,000-plus Iraqi civilians killed, so far, by the U.S. military. I am reminded of what my one-time mentor, Boris Sobelman, said to me one morning when we were having coffee at Schwab’s Drugstore on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

In the 1960s Schwab’s was still a place where Hollywood writers and actors hung out. We were probably talking about Viet Nam, and the difficulty of truly understanding the suffering that was going on there.

Boris said: “That’s an expression of God’s mercy for we mortals. We are genetically unable to empathize with all the suffering in the world. There’s too much of it. God knew there would be too much, so he fixed us so that we can ignore it. If we felt in our hearts all the suffering there is in the world, are hearts would break and we would die. God knew that. Do you think She was just playing around with us?”

I think Boris got that line from someone else, but it was new to me. It answered a question I had not yet quite asked. Forty years later it is still answering the same question. Compared with the rhetoric we use, our hearts are very small, and very fragile.

End

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