• Saying Goodbye, and Sorry We Messed This Up

    August 31, 2013

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    Posted in: Other Ideas

    (Off topic here, but I wanted to say a few words after dropping my child off at college. Regular readers who hope to see evil and corruption exposed, tune in again. There’s still plenty of it out there, also in a way the topic of this essay. This originally appeared on Huffington Post)

    Mrs. We Meant Well and I sent off the last of the heirs to the We Meant Well fortune to college. She’s a good kid, smarter than me hopefully, and she should do well at school. Though she is more embarrassed than anything about half the stuff on this blog, her heart’s in the right place. It would be very odd if as a teenager she would be any different. Hell, if she was as cynical as me at her age, we’d need to have her see a doctor.

    I kept my mouth shut at the college– there are rituals to these things and dad-confessions are not among them– but I wanted to say sorry to her more than simply goodbye. My kids all grew up overseas while I served with the State Department (though they of course did not accompany me to Iraq). Despite the occasional job hassles, it was not a bad life. For most of the time the world was mostly at peace. We started the adventure around the same time that Desert Storm happened. After a week of silly paranoid concern that the Iraqi Army might somehow attack us in Taiwan, life went back to normal and continued that way until September 11, 2001. We were assigned in Japan at that time, and like all of you, watched the terrible events unfold on TV, albeit late at night because of the time zone thing. As the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I got up to make some sandwiches to bring in to work, knowing the phone would ring soon and I’d be called in to the Embassy. I remember as clear as glacier water my wife saying “Why would they call you in? That’s in New York and we’re in Tokyo!” Then the phone did ring and that was that. Forever after I would feel like a shadow looking for the sanctuary of a light.

    The world my kids grew up in no longer exists. We destroyed it. In reaction to the terror attack, we set the Middle East on fire (still burning), nearly bankrupted our own economy, turned air travel into a form of bondage play, and did away with our democracy in return for a security state that exists only to keep us perched on the edge of fear. Nothing pressed us into these actions; we did them all on our own, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, the NSA amok, all that.

    That night twelve years ago in Tokyo, when I was called in to the Embassy after midnight? As I approached the gate, I could see a large crowd gathered, not usual for after midnight and certainly not usual in calm-as-dust Tokyo. About a hundred Japanese had spontaneously gathered there, some with flowers bought who-knows-where at that time of night. They clapped for us as we walked in to work. They wanted to touch us as we walked by. It did not last long. Fast forward to March 2003 and a larger crowd gathered to protest the invasion of Iraq, and protest calls blew out the switchboard. Our security people let us out a back gate, saying it wasn’t safe to exit through the front door. In Tokyo. One bomb threat and false positive al Qaeda warning after another followed, hitting a low point when, after weeks of denying it, the State Department admitted that they had shipped diplomatic pouches into our Embassy that might have been infected by the anthrax that was in the U.S. mail system at the time. My office was near the pouch mail room and I had to take Cipro as a precaution and wonder if anything got into my home and my kids’ room off my clothes. Threats and terror alerts became a daily part of our new normal, there and in the U.S.

    So I wanted to say I was sorry to my child. Sorry we messed up the world for you. Sorry for, what, how many dead? Sorry countries where Americans used to be at least tolerated with our awkward shorts and sandals ‘n socks are now too dangerous to even visit. Sorry you’ll never see the ruins of Babylon in Iraq, or the Pyramids, unless you join the Army. Sorry you will never know what privacy is. Sorry that you, and your children, will live in an America that exists in a constant state of low-fever war. Sorry you will never know peace. Sorry that we not only did not defeat the terrorists but, by our actions, gave their cause new life and seemingly endless new recruits. Sorry you will never enjoy an airplane trip, sorry you will never trust your government, sorry you will always have that tiny glint of reservation when you hear the anthem, read the Constitution or wonder what happened. And while I am sorry that you’ll blame us, you are right to do so. We did it. Some of us actively participated, some passively let it happen. Some that tried to make changes failed to make them significant enough to hold back even some of the water coming over the levies. Sorry, but if anyone is going to fix this, it is going to have to be you. Do a better job than we did if you want to really find a way to say thanks for the piano lessons and ballet lessons, the puppy, for using the car, for me not being too mad when you violated curfew to spend more time with that boy, for the college tuition.

    Funny, but I also just sent my last draft for the new book off to the editor. He’ll make it much better and I know that, but I have given up something that used to be all mine at the same time. It’ll come back different.

    We sent my daughter off to college this weekend and while my wife cried about 99% of the time, I held back some tears until the very end. While some kid my daughter had never met before said “C’mon, we’re going out with the guys from the next quad!” I stood there hugging her not in that room but in a million places where she had fallen down or asked for ice cream or needed a diaper changed or the causes of World War I explained. I didn’t hug an 18 year old woman but a six year old, a 13 year old, an infant in diapers, a two year old angry about being wet in the snow.

    And despite my need to hold on to her for just that much more she felt closer in that moment to the anonymous roommate demanding she go out the door with her than to me and I knew simultaneously how I hurt and how right she was to need to leave. The space between us was a fraction of an inch but it was a distance I would never cross.

    Back home it was quiet. Just my wife and the stupid, now old dog. I walked outside and saw the trees were still an unbelievable green, but just a hint of yellow, almost too little to really see, more of a feeling. There were nine empty beer cans in the recycling bin and I could hear cicadas. I swacked a mosquito. I’m gonna really miss summer.



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  • Recent Comments

    • kyzl orda said...

      1

      Dear PVB, Congratulations on finishing your bookdraft:) Another labour of love, after one’s children, family and one’s work

      08/31/13 2:00 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...

      2

      That’s a noble letter in classical apostrophic style (your daughter can go look up what a literary “apostrophe” is, and no it’s not punctuation ;-).

      However, you exaggerate how “the world (your) kids grew up in no longer exists.” For one thing, as you of all people know, America is not the world. But more importantly, throughout history, continuity is always at least as strong as change, and ancient family ways and memories tend to endure far beyond the surface changes of states and politics.

      Trying to think of an American example, but since it’s a young nation I’ll use an example stretching back to the Middle Ages: Almost a hundred years ago there was a North Carolinian musicologist named Olive Campbell, who went to the Appalachians to research the “Hillbillies'” folk songs. She discovered that they had preserved the original melodies of Medieval English and Scottish ballads, which had been forgotten or changed in Modern times. One example was the ballad “Barbara Allen”:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRgH_0zxqQE

      The point? The impact of parents lasts for many centuries after their very names have been forgotten. Most parents are forgotten by their descendants after three or four generations at most, but as Henry Adams (Great-Grandson of John Adams) said: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

      08/31/13 2:34 PM | Comment Link

    • Eric Hodgdon said...

      3

      It came to my attention two weeks ago I’m somewhat related to Gouverneur Morris. What this means – I don’t know other than it adds to my already long historical perspective. And, it goes a long way in understanding stuff – these issues brought up here.

      I tend to ramp up the rhetoric at times, well, most times when Online, not as much as pitchfork, but it’s a truthful rhetoric based on my deep passions developed over the decades from my notions of right and wrong.

      I’m glad someone has children who may pick up the pen someday, because I don’t. I hope these young ones, yours included, realize their careers must include civic responsibility – A responsibility they will define in their own way, however. And, how they define it will, hopefully, be for a more peaceful World – whatever that may turn out to be, for these words we use get twisted around over time. But, it’s my hope the twisting will return to a decency which values the individual and the group without greed and selfishness.

      08/31/13 3:33 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...

      4

      @ Eric Hodgdon, although you and I have previously clashed, your above comment makes sense to me, so I offer to bury whatever corroded and crumbling hatchets we ever used between us.

      As for this bit you wrote: “But, it’s my hope the twisting will return to a decency (etc)”…

      …I hope you won’t object to my taking up that slack, with the following examples?:

      1. (1500s): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQRxv3JE_X4

      2. (1700s-1800s): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaqmBOyNCuE

      3. 2073 AD: No change, yet hope! 😉

      08/31/13 4:42 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      War Party Gets the Bill (Moyers)

      Can you imagine the looks on the War Party faces when the Brits took a pass on the latest orgy of mindless violence ? What is the world coming to when we allow the people to have a vote ?

      Bill Moyers: “Sometimes I long for the wit of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They treat this town as burlesque, and with satire and parody show it the disrespect it deserves. We laugh, and punch each other on the arm, and tweet that the rascals got their just dessert. Still, the last laugh always seems to go to the boldface names that populate this town. To them belong the spoils of a looted city. They get the tax breaks, the loopholes, the contracts, the payoffs.

      They fix the system so multimillionaire hedge fund managers and private equity tycoons pay less of a tax rate on their income than school teachers, police and fire fighters, secretaries and janitors. They give subsidies to rich corporate farms and cut food stamps for working people facing hunger. They remove oversight of the wall street casinos, bail out the bankers who torpedo the economy, fight the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, prolong tax havens for multinationals, and stick it to consumers while rewarding corporations.

      We pay. We pay at the grocery store. We pay at the gas pump. We pay the taxes they write off. Our low-wage workers pay with sweat and deprivation because this town — aloof, self-obsessed, bought off and doing very well, thank you – feels no pain.

      The journalists who could tell us these things rarely do — and some, never. They aren’t blind, simply bedazzled. Watch the evening news — any evening news — or the Sunday talk shows. Listen to the chit-chat of the early risers on morning TV — and ask yourself if you are learning anything about how this town actually works.

      William Greider, one of our craft’s finest reporters, fierce and unbought, despite a long life in Washington once said that no one can hope to understand what is driving political behavior without asking the kind of gut-level questions politicians ask themselves in private: “Who are the winners in this matter and who are the losers? Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored?”

      Perhaps they don’t ask these questions because they fear banishment from the parties and perks, from the access that passes as seduction in this town.

      Or perhaps they do not tell us these things because they fear that if the system were exposed for what it is, outraged citizens would descend on this town, and tear it apart with their bare hands.”

      War anyone?

      09/1/13 11:13 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      6

      WAR PARTY SUPPORTS MORE WAR

      Wow, didn’t see this coming:

      “The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House expressed strong support Tuesday for a U.S. military strike against Syria, offering crucial congressional backing for President Obama’s request for authorization to use force in response to what they and the administration say was a devastating chemical weapons attack last month.

      Speaking to reporters after a White House meeting with Obama and other top congressional leaders, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “I’m going to support the president’s call for action; I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action.”

      The WAR PARTY really didn’t have a choice, right?

      09/3/13 5:34 PM | Comment Link

    • b. traven said...

      7

      It is warming to read a very personal comment such as this amongst the political words. I am of the really older generation, WW II where we did not kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting or avoid warm and personal words with friends and acquaintances. We left for a war at 18 and came back much too hardened. Your piece created tears for the easy goodbyse I gave my five kids. That’s all I had t give besides the support for their future.

      09/5/13 8:47 PM | Comment Link

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