Monday, January 14, 2008

Where is Our Atonement?

On Saturday, we did the double feature. First we enjoyed the action comedy romp National Treasure, then we followed it with Atonement. We were stunned. Atonement was not just a great movie, it is THE great movie. This type of experience comes along once every 10 years and reminds us of our own humanity, the frailty of our existence, the blessings we have and how quickly and easily they can be taken away from us. Usually at the end of a good movie, some folks applaud, but at the end of this thoughtful masterpiece, there was only silence. Quiet crowd silence.

Atonement has stayed with me since then. The images, camera angles, acting, pacing, story, rumbling through my head, and challenging my heart. My mind turns to Iraq and our soldiers there and Atonement whispers to me. They are doing a job, fulfilling a mission that no one would ever want. They are there because we can be an awfully stupid country. They are there because we believe what our leaders tell us to believe. We wouldn't want to appear unpatriotic, especially in the shadows of 9/11. We all know the war in Iraq is wrong but we've screwed that country and hurt those people so badly that we need to stay and try to atone for our terrible mistake.

I watch the MSNBC report on Britney Spears' non-attempt to attend her custody Hearing, and Atonement rings like a bell in the old tower. Those 300 reporters, photographers, and paparazzi need to be somewhere else. She will never be able to seek treatment while followed by a large pack of flash-popping bulbs attached to hungry, money-grubbing wolves. We need to turn our collective backs on her everyday life- for her kids sake, we need to do this. There will be atonement for our poor, media -driven assumptions about her mental state. I feel the same sadness, like atonement, like watching a train wreck in awfully slow motion.

We need to move ourselves to a better place than this. We need to leave this girl and her family alone. Justin Timberlake placed it in proper perspective when, after leaving a restaurant, he said to the horde of paparazzi surrounding him, "Hey, I just want to get to my car."

I watch the Presidential race turn into a clash of minorities, gender versus color. Since when did it matter? Why should it matter? We are a better people than this. If our leading candidates are willing to speak to the lowest common denominator, then we need to vote for someone else.
If race/gender has a bearing on this election, it will be because the candidates and the publicly divisive media machine has placed it there. This is their deck of cards and the ones they are choosing to play is to our detriment. One day, there will be atonement for this. Our candidates must elevate the debate to the issues alone, and leave our color and gender out of the election.

In our own hometown, our local pizza parlor has been operated for many years by a husband and wife from Bulgaria. When they emigrated, in the early 1990's. Bulgaria was a repressive state. They both applied for political asylum. They filled out the paperwork, waited and waited, for years upon years, for our government to make a decision. In the meantime, they built a popular business, served good food, treated everyone with equal respect, got driver's licenses, and began raising a family. They bought a home. They settled into a good life in a great country- they embraced freedom and the culture of America.

Last week, the INS agents arrested his wife, and she now sits in a jail waiting deportation. It seems that Bulgaria has settled down in the past sixteen years and my friend's reason for seeking political asylum is no longer valid. Go home, says the United States to these fine citizens of our community. Go back to your own country. Never mind that the administration of our immigration law is beyond incompetent- after all, behind every government desk is a citizen of the United States, so that should amount for something, right? Bullshit. We screwed up and we should make it right. This is government at its worst- repressive and abusive to the extreme-ruthless bureaucrats - arresting people on assumptions and tossing them out or even worse, tossing them into jails in foreign lands, torturing them, and placing a label on their heads that classifies us as well - we are enemy combatants of justice and the rule of law. We are at odds with ourselves, with the values that made this country great.

We are in a fine mess, our assumptions about others, our inability to leave people alone, and our incompetence leads to the abuse of decent people trying to live a decent life. We don't need change, we need vision to inspire us to change ourselves and our perception of the world around us. We need to stand up and take responsibility for our actions. We need atonement for what we have done to ourselves, our neighbors, our government, and our world.
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