Back when Shrub's pointless war in Iraq was just getting a good head of steam on, someone e-mailed me a set of photographs showing some poor s.o.b. nearly incinerating himself, trying to burn an American flag. Hundreds of similar images were going around in those days. If you've got email you've probably seen this one, and you've certainly seen others like it. I guess they were supposed to make us feel better about what was happening on the other side of the world. I looked at the picture of the flag burner, snickered a little, and sent it on to a couple other people.
Later on I looked at those images again, took an especially hard look at the last frame. In that one, while the hand of someone we can't see reaches to comfort him, the man who got burned looks scared, and in his eyes I could recognize embarrassment, and shame, and pain
And I realized for the first time how much that far away man looks like one of my neighbors. Mike, a bearded bear of an Appalachian redneck, feeds my dogs when I'm not home, we borrow tools back and forth, and once in a while we drink a beer together. Without getting a lot of breaks in life, Mike's worked hard all day, every day since he was fifteen or sixteen years old, and I have a whole lot of respect for him. He's a good neighbor. Living in the country like I do, that still means a lot.
Mike not only looks like that guy in the picture, they've probably got a lot in common. Both live in a world that hasn't graced either with the kind of good fortune people like me take for granted. Mike salts his speech with words like "rag head" --and worse-- while that other guy probably has similar terms for Americans.
But no matter what foolishness caused it, if my neighbor was on fire, and someone laughed, I'd get in their face and stay there till they hushed. My neighbor deserves more respect than being laughed at when he's scared, and embarrassed, and hurt.
And it occurred to me, the guy in the picture deserved that kind of respect too.
I was sorry I laughed at him. I truly was.
I'm sorry I laughed at and trivialized a lot of images.
I'll not do it again.
My Internet mailbox fills up on a daily basis with red white and blue tinged cartoons, mp3s, and movie files I've seen a lot of cartoon machine guns and cartoon camels and cartoon bomb craters. For the most part I've laughed, and forwarded it right along.
I'm done with that.
Guys like Mike and the man in the picture are going to be killing one another for the next little while.
There's nothing funny about it.
After I posted this to an Appalachian listserve, a "friend" in Ohio stopped talking to me. Can't say I've missed her. I'd post the pictures referred to above, but I "lost" them a long time ago.