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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Other Views

Hating the world, but loving life

Commentary by JoEllen Collins

Remaining a cockeyed optimist is getting harder. Not since the under-the-school desk, atomic bomb drills of my youth have I been so frightened of the world. All my life I have felt positive about coming events: Even in the face of devastating personal setbacks, I somehow believed the dictum that tomorrow would be better. Anyone who has read my columns in the past knows this about me. But now I want to hide. Where is my school-desk when I need it?

Lately, however, I cannot stand to watch the news or even read some of the most thoughtful publications because of the truth of the ghastly hatred in the world around me. I have been just about undone by the photos of prisoners being abused in Iraq. It is not as though I am so naÔve that I canít grasp that abuses occur in war, that there is even a "climate" of hatred that nurtures this abominable behavior. However, I grew up with the knowledge of the provisions of the Geneva Convention and with a very American sense of fair play. I didnít like it when German soldiers said they were merely "following orders," nor do I think that excuse works when it is our side perpetrating abuses on prisoners.

In a supposedly enlightened society, the buck stops with each of us, I think, to constantly maintain a vigilant set of moral behaviors. If we descend into barbarity, then all we stand for is negated. We have become the oppressors, no better than those we aim to "enlighten." So, I donít really care who ordered whom to do what. Itís all shameful, and we should hang our heads in shame. I am embarrassed to be a part of any of it. I consider myself a patriot, but I will not condone the acts of others who betray the ideals of my country.

I hold as a basic tenet of my citizenship that America has always valued the dignity of human life. I know that war is hell, but My Lai should have reminded all of us that we must not revert to barbarity under stress, even in the name of some "higher purpose." The lesson as far back as Shakespeareís Julius Caesar is that even noble ends do not justify ignoble means.

What can I do, then, in this time of fear, violence and lost control? First, as a citizen, I can try to speak up when I feel something is wrong with policy or with our leaders. I can exercise my freedom of speech. I can write letters to my elected representatives. At the very least, I can vote.

Furthermore, I can continue to try to make my own little corner of the world a positive place. Each day I am confronted with the petty negativity that is so easily embracedógriping and complaining and gossiping. I certainly cannot control the actions of others, but perhaps I can renew my own vows to be a positive and loving person, to have faith in a faithless world, to spread some energy that is positive instead of hurtful. As sappy as that may sound, itís about all I can do.

Whether or not to keep abreast of the latest atrocity is something else. I want to be an educated and responsive citizen, but the pervasive images of brutality are daunting.

Maybe today Iíll read a paper, be upset by the carnage I find, get out from under my desk, take a breath, and then reflect for a few moments on how precious the moment is, how lucky I am, healthy in a beautiful place with good things happening in my own little life. Then I can breathe the clean air, smell the spring flowers, take a walk with my doggies, call my daughters and tell them I love them, hug a child, eat something yummy, exercise, find humor and laugh a bit, write something for my soul, sew a gift for a friend, spend some time with my circle of loving women, maybe even do something good for someone else. In short, I can put the dogs of war at bay for a brief time, at least by finding joy in the things I do al the time. I really donít know what else I can do to preserve my sanity. I guess it doesnít hurt to take a time out from devastation to take a little comfort in what we treasure.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.