Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Wednesday, November 24

I wish you could have been with me last night, Bush. Ellie, my wife, and I went with a friend to see "The Motorcycle Diaries." I doubt you will have seen it, or that you will, since it's about that famous socialist revolutionary Che Guevera, who was killed back in the 60s for his involvement with the Castro revolution in Cuba--reportedly with at least the tacit assent help of the CIA. As a medical student, the scion of an affluent, loving, and sophisticated urban family, he sets out on a lark with his friend to tour the length of Latin America on a dilapidated motorcycle… and finds a heart and soul he did not know he had, along with a mission that guides the rest of his short life.

What opens his eyes along the way is the incredible suffering of the people he meets. The film is unsparing in its exploration of the multiple faces of this suffering: the impoverished peasant farmers, the Indians evicted from their homes by the insatiable greed of developers and industrial exploiters, those lucky enough to find employment forced to work for below-subsistence wages in dangerous mines, lepers exiled to an isolated colony run by Catholic nuns and a handful of dedicated medical professionals. He's confronted everywhere by hunger, poverty, injustice, exploitation, ignorance, and deprivation. And yet--this is the amazing part, Bush--the deepest lesson offered by these people reduced to bare subsistence is the lesson of human nobility. There's a depth of soul and even, yes, an access to the joy of being human that is profoundly moving: amidst the worst imaginable of economic circumstances, they dance, they sing, they love… And it's the combination of the two that makes the film at once tragic and inspiring. You leave--we left--the theater with a renewed sense of the irreducible value of human life.

Obviously, the effect of this experience on the young Che was to inspire him with thoughts of socialist revolution. I had those same yearnings as a young man, though I lacked the total, unselfish commitment that made of him a leader and--dare I say it?--a martyr to, the cause of social justice. Which leaves me wondering about you, Bush. Did those revolutionary yearnings ever touch your soul? Surely they did. I think they touch the soul of every young person when he or she first becomes aware of human suffering…and who has not become aware of it, in one way or another? And if you did experience those revolutionary yearnings, would they have been for some kind of a right-wing, conservative revolution?

Because that's what I see you trying to realize now, Bush. It's almost a slow Republican coup that has been taking place in this country over the past few years, and this is the culmination of it. You talk about "compassionate" conservatism, as though you really wanted to address the problems of our less advantaged citizens. But your revolution seems to lead only to greater power and wealth for those who already have it, and greater suffering for the less fortunate. I wish you could show me some small evidence to the contrary, but I don’t see it, Bush. I just don't see it. I don’t see the smallest evidence of your vaunted compassion.

That's why I wish you’d been with me last night. Like me, I believe you would have learned something more about compassion. You might even have been inspired.


Oh, and I wrote this poem for my friend, who's dying. I wanted you to have the opportunity to read it. It's called:

"A Slow Man"

Sam, she said,
is a slow man.
He does things
slowly. For months
now, he has been
dying. Slowly.
Meticulously. Out-
lasting all professional
predictions, and with full
attention to the detail of
that process. This week,
she said, he has been
declining, slowly. Just
yesterday he slipped
quietly into a coma;
they thought he would
not last the night.
But then this morning,
he opened his eyes
again, and smiled
at the touch of her
fingers on his face,
and nodded at her words,
content to wait yet
another day, content
to leave us

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