Rotary "sad buck" reminds us about compassion

First published:
March 26, 2003

As the fog slowly cleared away very early Friday morning, Brighton Sunrise Rotarians were gathering at Dougall’s, a new restaurant on Harbour Street right next to the lake. The conversations were quite animated and jovial for 7 a.m. After a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit and coffee or tea, the business meeting went quickly. Nothing unusual.

That was until a regular part of every Rotary meeting when Happy Bucks are collected. For the uninitiated, this portion of the meeting gives members a chance to share with the rest of the club something joyful in their lives, including successes in business, at home or at the meeting. For this privilege, a loonie is tossed into a pot.

At Brighton’s meeting each member is given an opportunity. Many placed in two or three loonies, as they talked about the delight felt with the start of spring, the arrival of a new member and several excellent jokes. There was lots of laughing.

Then a stately woman with grey hair and a beautifully aged face rose.  She announced she was giving a “sad” buck.

“I want us to think of those children in Iraq,” she said with great dignity. “ For those of us who can remember the bombs going off in London during the (Second World) War, we certainly know what it is like. I remember. And I can tell you how incredibly frightening it was.”

The war in Iraq suddenly came alive and it was standing in Northumberland County.

It was no longer rhetoric being flouted for television cameras. Nor was it dogma thrust back and forth between closed-minded individuals bent on pushing an agenda. Neither was it a war of words with threats and counter-threats.

No longer was it a video game on CNN with frighteningly unreal pictures taken from a hotel balcony or rooftop with a green tinge, sirens occasionally going off in the background; or the surreal streak of light cutting across the sky, which is followed by the flash of a bomb hitting a target only a few kilometers away.

No longer it is droning commentary stretched out over hours and days from all-news television stations or preempted programs with all kinds of speculation from every conceivable expert on earth, leaving one wondering when the janitor will be interviewed for his opinion.

While soldiers suffer from the fog of war, we suffer from the information fog, embedded in our living rooms, in front of the television, unable to discern what is real.

The mist began to clear Sunday as some images of war arrived. Wounded children, dead soldiers, crash sites, human pain and suffering replaced the computer-generated special effects. The horrors of war gave us a glimpse of the true price being paid.

Sadly, there are those who support the war who do not want to let this suffering touch their hearts. Instead they give us the intellectual analysis, dismissing the people’s suffering as the cost of war. Civilians are used as human shields. Collateral damage cannot be helped, say experts. Soldiers know what they are getting into, we are told. It is their job; their duty, others argue.

This view was given a completely different perspective late last week when Michael Watersbey, of Baltimore, spoke with a local television station after his son, Sgt. Kendall Watersbey died in a helicopter crash on the Iraqi border.

“This is the only son I had – only son.”

As the fog continues to clear, we watch those who support war turn up the heat.  Partisan politicians and neo-conservative media pounded American Senator Tom Daschle last week for challenging President George Bush’s televised ultimatum to Iraqi leader Sadaam Hussein. The Dixie Chicks, a well-known country group, were boycotted and pulled from radio stations for speaking against the war. Americans were asked to get behind the president. The time for dissention had run out.

Even a columnist for the Cobourg Star got into the bashing last Saturday calling local peace protesters naive and afraid. But residents of Northumberland should be fearful as they watch the dawn of a new era of imperialism. No doubt the Romans, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English all felt the same as the Americans do right now. And look what happened.

One only needed to listen to various members of the Arab nations gathering in Cairo earlier this week to realize the threat to North America. From the sound of it, nobody should be surprise if we will be hit by acts of terrorism that will make September 11 pale in comparison.

Yes, it is reasonable to be afraid. And angry, frustrated, sad and a huge range of emotions. Hopefully, one will find compassion in amongst the others.

That is what the lady at the Brighton Rotary meeting was about. Her experience transformed the entire room and for a moment, it was impossible for anyone to feel anything other than empathy. It was genuine and profound.

To see clearly the impact of this war, we, in Northumberland, do not need to be on front lines of the battle either through simulations or images or stories in the news. We need only look into the eyes of a child, see the dignified face of a senior citizen, watch a crowded line up at the grocery store check out or stare into the mirror. Once we see the humanity, we have no other choice but to seek peace.

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