Friday, March 24, 2006

Passions are difficult to sustain

Commentary by Matt Furber

Matt Furber

Stripping a layer as the sun heats the day, my thoughts churn with politics as my fellow randoneurs and I climb Mushroom Ridge on the last day of winter.

The snow under our feet is fresh, but my sentiments feel stale. I'm thinking about magnetic yellow ribbons. A year ago they were as ubiquitous as this winter's snow. Today, the floppy symbols of support for the troops are nearly as rare on the highway as a four-wheel-drive American Eagle.

Powder is enticing this morning. Healing sun crusts are stacked up like a Dagwood sandwich. It's good to be here early. Daytime conditions are changing more dramatically. Welcoming spring, we climb higher. My thoughts spiral back to the war again.

Have the decals simply pealed off in the frost or have they been discretely removed or are they like the flags seen on antennas after 9/11?

Passions are difficult to sustain. Emotions that carry me to action like euphoria, hate, joy or pain wax and wane. But, as I read about battle-torn Iraq to the holy city of Varanasi, India, I see the tide of hate and fear is still in.

An e-mail tells me that in this country, as with surviving in avalanche terrain, on the path to peace the devil is in the details.

The e-mail is a quote from Jaime Raskin, professor of constitutional law at American University, who is a candidate for State Senate in Maryland.

"Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn't place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible," Raskin said. She was testifying Wednesday, March 1, before the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in response to a question from Republican Sen. Nancy Jacobs about whether marriage discrimination against gay people is required by "God's Law."

It seems that for dogma often suffices as a moral guide in debates challenging common mores. For others certain "self-evident" inalienable rights bring clarity. Subtlety is not an American trait, however. Will societies and their politicians ever embrace the creed of physicians to at least do no harm? Will knowledge, perspective and love temper passions and guide reason?

Communing with nature and praising the choices that enable me to enjoy where I am today rather than in a foxhole, I cool down on the ridge.

I still nurse a sense of shock at the immediacy and tragedy of conflicts President Bush claims are under control just as the President of Iraq says the country is on the verge, if not in the midst, of civil war. In any case, the conflict includes the U.S.

These thoughts are momentarily tempered by remembering that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld skied in Vail with a group of disabled Iraq war veterans.

Free heeling on K2s rather than shouldering an M16, I am thankful that my veteran father never invited Marine Corps recruiters in the house to speak to his sons. No matter what one's convictions are about global politics, I know with other choices it could be me strapped to an adaptive ski. I know I am not entitled to ski, but I also do not feel compelled to fight for the right.

Here on this ridge ahead of the sun's changing heat, scoping out a safe line through knee deep powder, contemplating the significance of waist deep powder stacked up by the wind, a wind slab that whumpfs and cracks. Freedom is choice and my choice is to ski now or retreat down the ridge. Enlisted, would I not be obliged to forego individual choice and when ordered fire on the enemy? How can conscription illicit true freedoms? Perhaps war is like a homeopathic remedy. If so, we have confused the dosage.

In a world of live fire, the one certainty is that there are alternatives. But, immediately I wrestle with the dynamics of snow and avalanche hang fire. Weighing our knowledge with a cool dispassionate risk assessment, there are safe fresh lines for the entire group.

Later that night, walking out of an impromptu viewing of "V for Vendetta," I am reminded of a clash I witnessed years before 9/11 in Corsica where two restaurateurs on the mountain island, Napoleon's birthplace, battled over who would serve lunch to some tired bicycle tourists.

The choice was to join one gourmand or another. A vendetta—disaster for the joy of the tour—loomed. Then, suddenly the proprietor who would lose out on baguette and coffee sales "was called away" to do emergency relief work with Medicines Sans Frontier in the Congo. Another path was found and the situation was defused. Everyone enjoyed a fine cup of coffee and a beautiful view.

When it is late in the day and everything around you is whumpfing and cracking, sometimes it is better to retreat down the ridgeline.

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