Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Angels Of Our Better Nature


It’s been hard to be angry lately, harder to maintain the rage in the face of loving family, delightful spouse and children grown wise, patient and forgiving. My youngest daughter has returned home to Brisbane, managing a two hour plane ride that became an eight hour debacle caused by storms, planes that didn’t go and staff that should. She did it with persistence, determined staff management and the silently ticked off resolution of those who do what works rather than vent feelings that make things worse. I’m proud of her, and I’ll miss her in the weeks to come.

It reminded me of times past when I’ve had to think fast to produce the effect rather than the affect, the intervention rather than the emotion. The thing that angers me most, and most often, is the abuse of children. The sound of a crying child makes me crazy, and I have to do something, anything to make it stop. Over the years I’ve seen and heard children being yelled at, abused, shaken, dragged by the arm around shopping centres more often than anywhere else. And I know that ‘sticking your nose in’ is not only not appreciated, it’s asking for more trouble, more for the child with some left over for me. And over the years I’ve come up with a range of ways to deal with it.

I’ve ‘lost control’ of my shopping cart and crashed into the cart of someone berating a child, and followed up with profuse apologies and general bumbling that diverts and defuses. I’ve burst into song on occasions (usually to my spouse) to create a useful diversion. A favourite is singing “Dolmades!” at the deli counter, to the tune of the 60’s Dean Martin classic “Volare.” If you get the moment right you can usually get people to join in on the “Whoa-oh!” chorus.

I’ve bowled fresh melons or tinned peaches around the ankles of obnoxious, bullying parents, followed up with a loud, “Whoops, sorry.. ooh, there it is, don’t know how that got away from me..” in order to break up a ruckus with a kid on the short end of the stick. I wasn’t interfering, just distracting people and putting the bullying adult off their stride. It’s hard to be stroppy when canned peas are rolling dangerously around your heels and bouncing off your trolley.

I once stood in a checkout line watching a mother bully her five year old for several minutes and eventually broke in with “Never mind kid, when she’s old and helpless, and you’re all grown up you can put her in a home and spend all her money.” The child blinked back his tears and stared at me, silently. The mother shut her mouth, kept her back turned, and got out of there a.s.a.p.

But my proudest moment was about twelve years ago in a ghastly shopping centre on Sandgate Road in Albion, a dreary north Brisbane suburb. I was wandering aimlessly past a row of shops that featured a pharmacy next to a newsagent. As I looked to my right I saw, across the aisles of corn-pads, tampons and constipation relief, a large fat woman towering over a tot with tears streaming down her face.

As I watched the woman picked the child up and slapped it hard across the face. Without a moment’s thought I picked up the nearest thing to hand, which was a size twelve running shoe in a bargain bin at the pharmacy’s entrance, and threw it hard. I was quite shocked when, over several aisles and about fifteen feet, it hit the woman square in the back of the head. I instantly jumped back around the dividing wall into the newsagents shop.

I strolled out a minute or two later but the woman and the child were gone. I never got to see the look on the face of the vile baggage after her encounter with The Flying Footwear of Instant & Anonymous Karma. I like to think she turned around and saw no-one, just an empty and accusing silence that chilled her to the marrow. When I thought about it later I laughed my socks off. It was sublime. Down with the Tyranny Of Mean-Spirited Fat Cows In Overstretched Tracksuits! Strike one for The Forces Of Justice And Avenging Footwear. I hope she is haunted by it to this day. That she shudders when size twelve blue and white running shoes cross her path. That her child believes in the kindness of strangers and knows right from wrong, and right from left, all because of that moment.

Most of all I’m proud of the spontaneity of the act. That I didn’t hop from foot to foot with middle class angst, stricken with the immobility of the well-meaning but clueless. I didn’t think at all, I just was taken up in the moment, the act, the blow for the weak and powerless against the vile and sanctimonious bullies of the world. I acted in complete and spontaneous accord with the better angels of my nature. Which is a rare and precious moment in any life, but even better than that, I got away with it. A rare and wonderful thing indeed, one to be cherished and kept polished bright in the memory.

And it’s not something accorded to us all. When Muntadhar al-Zeidi had his moment of inspired anger and threw both his shoes at George W. Bush earlier this month he paid the full toll, and was jumped on and pounded flat by the local secret service thugs. Pounded so flat in fact that even the Americans were shocked. He’ll be paying for it for some time too: Beaten, tortured, imprisoned and tortured some more. Long after the great fathead in the White House is just a painful memory he’ll still be copping a hiding. While George was ducking I noticed the Iraqi Prime Minister didn’t even blink.

Al-Zeidi has become a symbol of civil disobedience and outraged, yet restrained, political action. No-one was hurt (except Muntadhar himself) but the message that American Emperor has no shoes was spread far and wide in a peaceful, almost comic act of pedestrian protest. The dimwit Bush was nonplussed and still short of an understanding that he is responsible for the deaths of 655,000 people. The hard faced Iraqi Prime Minister was unmoved by humanity, outrage or anything other than calculating politics.

That symbol has become a rallying cry for desperate Palestinians under Israeli gunships, for murderous Hamas thugs throwing rockets instead of shoes, for opportunist Ayatollahs and Muslim bigots, for all those who feel the heel of the U.S of A on their necks, and all those who like to crowd a bandwagon and hurl footwear indiscriminately. And yet I think this was never Al-Zeidi ‘s intent.

I don’t think there was any intent at all. I think that when he was confronted by the man who turned his country into a battlefield, the grinning idiot whose astonishingly self-satisfied ignorance caused the deaths of 655,000 Iraqis, who loosed the violence of Muslim sectarian hatreds and destroyed the justice system, the police, the army, the government, the health system, hospitals, sanitation, clean water, you name it he’s fucked it up so bad it will take generations to fix, the man just snapped.

For just a moment he was overwhelmed by the truth, and by the better angels of his nature, and heaved the Hush Puppies of Honourable Protest. Unlike Bruce Pardo, the calculating Californian in the Santa suit who took the good ole American way out of personal failure and gunned down, blew up, then burned down everyone he could, Muntadhar al-Zeidi just threw the Shoe of Justice, the Desert Boot of Public Accusation, the Footwear of Free Speech, the Slippers of Slapstick, the Brogues of Bush-Bashing, the Pumps of Purity, the Toe-warmers of Truth...

May God guide his feet to a place of peace.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Deliciously sublime Dalton Lee, a pleasure to read!