Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saying Goodbye and Booking Through Thursday

Sage with Richard on his last day at Wendy's.

A bunch of us in town are losing a friend. On Tuesday (providing there’s not a glitch due to Hurricane Ike), Richard will be moved to Texas to be near his sister. He’s going to be missed. Richard is a special man. He’s my age and intellectually challenged (some may say that about me). For the past four or five years, he’s lived in an adult foster care home that is being closed down by the state. While there are serious reasons forcing the closure of the home, it’s sad that Richard and “his family” are all going to have to be moved into other homes. Richard is one of the positive persons I know. He works at Wendy’s during the lunch shift, cleaning tables and mopping up spilled drinks. He’s always glad to see me when I go in for my Santa Fe Salad, but once he says hi, he’s back to work. At church, when the congregation shares joys and concerns, Richard always starts out “I just want to thank the Lord…” and he starts rolling out a list. Much of it is lost in his slurring of words, but no one misses in his litany his thanks for “my job.” He’s more proud of his minimum wage job than most people whose hourly rates would be 10, 20 or 30 times as high. About a year ago, I saw him on the street and he came up to me, saying “Sage, I got a raise.” Thanks to his raise, he was making a little over $7 an hour and was so excited. I didn’t tell him that the minimum wage had just gone up. Then he invited me to come down to Wendy’s saying, “I’ll buy you you’re dinner.” I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings when I assured him that I could buy my own dinner as I (and others) had on occasion picked up his bill in the local diner and at the coffee shop). Richard, I know you won’t see this and that even if you did, you couldn’t read it, but I’m going to miss you and the sunshine you’ve brought to our community!

Gautami asked me to comment on this week’s “Booking Through Thursday” topic. This is the prompt which concerns our reading since 911:

Terrorists aren’t just movie villains any more. Do real-world catastrophes such as 9/11 (and the bombs in Madrid, and the ones in London, and the war in Darfur, and … really, all the human-driven, mass loss-of-life events) affect what you choose to read? Personally, I used to enjoy reading Tom Clancy, but haven’t been able to stomach his fight-terrorist kinds of books since.

And, does the reality of that kind of heartless, vicious attack–which happen on smaller scales ALL the time–change the way you feel about villains in the books you read? Are they scarier? Or more two-dimensional and cookie-cutter in the face of the things you see on the news?

I don’t think my reading has been affected by 911. I’ve never been much of one to read the terrorist/villain mysteries. I did read a bit more about Islam following 911, but I had been reading about the faith since the First Gulf War in 1990, when it hit me that I should know something about those whom we were fighting. If anything, the events of 911 have affirmed some of my Calvinistic thoughts on human depravity. It seems that the human race has potential for great good and great evil. The same goes for religion; one’s faith can be a source of great goodness or horrific deeds. But then, those without a faith in a Supreme Being have also been able to commit just as great or perhaps even greater atrocities (consider Stalin or Pol Pot).

Since 911, I’m perhaps more aware of how easy it is to be sucked into evil actions while believing you’re doing what is good or that you’re on the “right side” (letting the end justify the means). I was drawn back to the conclusions drawn by Christopher Browning in Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Browning shows that how a group of mostly middle age men from Hamburg, serving in the equivalent of our National Guard. These men with no real political affiliation to Nazism or a history of anti-Jewish sentiment, followed orders and became killers in Poland. The haunting question is, “if it was so easy for them to make the transition into a villain, would it be easy for us?”

Terrorists need to be stopped; yet, we have to be careful how we “hunt them down.” If we see terrorist as animals to be hunted, we risk losing our humanity and become, like them, a beast.

I know I’m not really answering the prompt concerning how my reading has been affected by 911. Like I said, my reading hasn’t much changed, but my world view has changed slightly.

By the way, if you've not seen this video clip from The Daily Show, I recommend watching it? The state of our political discourse may be sad, but we should at least laugh about it.

Postscript (3 hours later): There were a few other books I read due to 911. I'm not really into science fiction, but living where I did at the time, I got to know the author L. E. Modesitt, Jr. In talking about the events, I read several of his works that discuss religion and war. I recommend them. See especially The Parafaith War and The Ethos Effect. In The Parafaith War, Modesitt explores the strength and weakeness of religion in creating a better world and the danger of fanaticism. In The Ethos Effect, nhe does the same for the secular world. Another book that I read after 911, recommended by Lee, is Walter Miller's, A Canticle for Leibowitz. It's a classic look on religion in a post-nuclear world.


  1. Richard seems to be a very special person. I am glad you introduced him to us. He too is blessed to have you as his riend just as you are.

    As for your thoughts about BTT prompt, I think I deviated completely from it. I kind of got emotional. I used to and still read a lot about Islam or should I say religion. That is one reason I do not believe in any kind of religion.

    While I comment here, we are having serial blasts in Delhi right now...4 at the time I major place..which are croweded on Weekends. And I just got home a while back from one of those very areas.

    Given the right or should I say wrong circumstances, it would be easy to turn to be villians for most of us. Right now I want to kill those terrorist just as violently as they do. Non-violence went out with Gandhi...

    I know I am over-reacting...

  2. Gautami, sorry to hear about the recent wave of bombings there. I am not a pacifist and do think that governments have to at times make realistic decisions that require killing, but such decisions can't be made lightly

    I supported out government going into Afghanstan, but felt it was wrong from the beginning when we went into Iraq

  3. I like what you're saying about "hunt them down". An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. It doesn't mean we should sit and suffer, but war may not be the best answer.

  4. Thank you for sharing about Richard. There are people in this world that are precious if we take the time to see it. So many times we go about our busy lives and fail to be touched by those like Richard. We can learn a valuable lesson from Richard and live happier by appreciating what we have and be thankful for it.

  5. It's always sad when somebody who's in your everyday life has to move away. He definitely seems to have a good outlook on life and sees the best in things, even if he may not understand things as we would (and that's probably a good thing!).

  6. Well, I cried for poor Richard. I just don't know what to say. How can they shut down the homes and seperate the "families" of these precious people, and still sleep at night.

    9/11 hasn't affected my reading habits at all. I think most religions have a history of violence. Its really the human factor - or lack thereof (in my humble opinion).

  7. Mother Hen, even when war is the answer (which is less often than not, I think), we need to be careful at demonizing our enemies

    Kontan, YES!

    Nikki-ann, if we could all have such an outlook on life!

    Epiphany, I was teary writing about Richard! Unfortunately, the house is privately owned and the operator has not been fulfilling his role and there are some serious health issues.

  8. Sage you made me tear up about Richard

    In SC they call it 9-1-1; in NY it's always 9/11. I have read several books with it as its theme--Art Spiegelman's graphic novel In the absence of no towers about his family, and SJ Rozan's Absent Friends--both e_cellent

    I have written about reviewing The Guys--a movie about firemen in a screening room in Times Square the night war was declared. That was surreal

    It's easy for me to discuss the books and film and hard to discuss the reality

  9. Thanks for sharing Richard with us - we all wish him luck in Texas. And we should all be so grateful for what we have.

  10. Our Wendy's workers sound completely different. I think I would prefer yours.

  11. We must hold fast to our 'special' friends. I've found mine have taught me a lot more than I've ever offered them. More people need to realize that what little we offer in friendship is repaid ten times in wisdom and affection from these, God's true angels.

    As for your post 9-11 reading habits, mine haven't changed much. I would note, though, that since I started law school a quarter century ago, I don't read legal thrillers or watch law related movies because I spend too much time calling "BS" on improbable/impossible stuff.

    To each his own, I guess.


  12. I was touched by what you wrote about Richard. Folks like him are priceless. :)

  13. The world would be a better place with a lot more 'Richards'.

    Are you having a monsoon there this weekend? We sure are here... rain, rain, and more rain.

  14. The story of Richard and his raise just melted my heart. I hope things go well for him and that he makes more nice friends like you.

  15. I love this story about Richard. When I worked at McDonald's as a teen, we had a "Richard" only her name was really Barb. She was so sweet and always so happy about everything.

  16. Working with special children, I train myself to see the person behind the physical frame, rather than the disabilities. It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. I guess I should keep trying. You write about Richard is really wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  17. I'm sorry that you're losing your friend, Sage. He sounds like a wonderful person and a blessing to know.

    Thanks for writing about him.