If I was the parent of one of the 37 children killed by the Israeli bomb that hit the Lebanese town of Qana last night, the least I’d expect from the citizens of the country whose President and Secretary of State see no need for a cease fire that would have saved the lives of those innocents is this:
A tear. Better, lots of them.
Have we forgotten how to cry?
Sometimes it takes a talented writer to remind us of what it means to be human. (Are you paying attention, George and Condoleezza?). I’ve just finished reading “God Laughs & Plays” by David James Duncan, author of “The River Why.”
I invite you to read this excerpt. And weep.
Duncan is telling the story of a nurse, Gerri, who went on her fourth mission of mercy to Iraq in May 2002.
Before this recent trip—amid all the American flag waving and war rumblings—Gerri’s oldest daughter tried to persuade her to stay home. Gerri didn’t describe their discussion, but she did say that, after finally accepting Gerri’s sense of mission, daughter offered mother an old-souled piece of advice. “If you do go” she said, “be completely present, wherever you go.”
These words returned to Gerri in May 2002, in an Iraqi hospital virtually bereft of medicine and hope. While her group moved from bed to bed, Gerri approached a woman sitting next to her dying child. Gerri speaks no Arabic. The woman spoke no English. Trying to be “present” anyway, Gerri looked at the child, then at the mother, and placed her right hand over her own heart.
The Iraqi mother placed her right hand over her own heart.
Gerri’s eyes and the mother’s eyes simultaneously filled with tears.
The hospital was crowded. Gerri’s visitation time was short. She started to move to the next bed, but then remembered her daughter’s words: “completely present.” She and the mother were already crying, their hands over their hearts. There was nothing Gerri could do, despite her medical training, for the child. “How much more present,” she wondered, “is it possible to be?”
She stepped forward anyway. With no plan but vague allegiance to the commandment, “completely present,” the nurse without medicine stepped toward the bed of the dying child and inconsolable mother. She then put both of her hands out, palms up.
The Iraqi mother fell into her arms.
“If only this experience were unique!” Gerri told me. “But I can’t tell you, any longer, how many mothers I’ve now held in this same way.”
Her voice grew faint over the phone.
I heard: “…diseases that children would almost never die from in the U.S….”
I heard: “…medicine so basic…”
Then her voice faded, or maybe I drowned it out. I’ve never taken interview notes while sobbing before.