Saturday, August 13, 2005

Change. Ugh. They Can't Handle It.

The conservative line on Cindy Sheehan, mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq, is that she changed her story. See, she met with Bush in 2004 and aftwards, said nice things about him. Later, she said that Bush didn't seem to know who her son was and treated the meet and greet with grieiving families as "a party."

This makes Cindy Sheehan and flip flopper. I guess this is bad because, if you're on the right, changing your mind about anything is a sign of weakness.

But, here's the thing: She'd just lost her son. She met with the President to receive condolences. She had actually chosen to, at the time, not make a political issue out of it. Now, I've lost people I've loved and I'm not alone in that. Two people, a grandmother and a girl friend, I lost to suicide, which brings up all sorts of "how dare they" kinds of issues. I was young when both happened. I was immature when both happened. There were tons of issues an immature person could have raised, in both cases, about motive, propriety, fairness... without knowing much about what I'm writing about, I trust that the reader can reconstruct all of the arguments and things you could say about situations like that. But, during the funerals, the gatherings, the ash spreadings, the "are you okay?" discussions... you just don't. You don't out of compassion for the other people around you. You don't out of a desire to remember the deceased in the best possible light. You don't because you really want to move beyond that. Right after... during all the rituals, you just don't.

Casey Sheehan died heroically. That would be the only consolation to his mother. Right after he died, consolation, for her, is the only thing that should have mattered. To get at that consolation, she silenced a lot of her own thoughts and feelings. She attended the memorials, she met with the President, she concentrated on her own grieving and she probably thought, even though she had the opportunity, that she wasn't going to use access to the media to talk about her own feelings about the war. Not then. It would have probably been inconceivable to her. Yes, I realize, I'm pop psychoanalyzing a woman I never met, but... it isn't hard to empathize.

I have been in the position of speaking in public about one of the deaths I alluded to before. After my girlfriend killed herself, I spoke at her funeral. You know what? I don't remember what I said, but I do remember, very palpably, that I chose my words carefully, in order to cmfort the audience, not to express any rage that I might have been feeling at the time. Later, to friends, I expressed that rage (boy, did I!). Some of the people I spoke with later were at her funeral. None of them said, "What you're saying now doesn't jive with the eulogy you gave, flip flopper!" I truly think that the people I spoke with, if they even noticed that, as time passed, my words changed, were too good, too empathic, to throw a few spoken contradictions back in my face, given the circumstances.

Right now, Cindy Sheehan believes that she lost her son to a war that we shouldn't be fighting. She doesn't have to justify those feelings with her past statements. How she feels now is all that matters. Life is long but death is permament. How she feels now and how she'll feel in the future are all a result of the policy decisions made by George Bush. People parsing her public statements over a two year period changes nothing. Right now, she feels what she feels. She is bravely acting on those feelings.

You know what? I respect her feelings. I have my own opinion about the war in Iraq. But if Cindy Sheehan changes her mind tomorrow, or a year from now, and I see her on Larry King saying, "In the end, I think that war was worth my son's life," then I will respect that opinion. It's her life, her son and, in a lot of ways, her war and her right to have an opinion about it. I'll respect that opinion, and her. She doesn't owe me any sort of philosophic purity. I'm happy to have her out there, talking about the real costs of this war and questioning the motives behind it. But, in the end, I'm happy to have her saying whatever the hell she feels, when she feels it. She's no pawn for my politics, nor should she be. In the end, the least we can give somebody who's lost what she has is a damned public hearing, if she wants it, and she does.


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