According to the idea of six degrees of separation, all inhabitants on our blue planet should, at the most, be six steps away from each other by way of introduction of a friend of a friend of a friend etc. But on some occasions you are a lot closer to certain people than you would ever imagine.
Sometimes you bump into people you could never anticipate meeting. Like last weekend on the town. I was out partying with a few friends and we ended up at some sleazy late night bar. And no, I’ll admit this up front: I didn’t meet Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi in person nor did I meet Osama bin Laden, Elvis Presley or Donald Duck. I wasn’t that drunk. I did meet Marilyn Monroe earlier in the evening though, at a gay bar, surprise, surprise. But that’s another story. At this bar I met someone else.
My friends and I entered the jumping, dimly lit, smoke filled joint, had yet another beer, my friends started playing pool and I sat down in a crowded corner, next to a friendly, smiling middle aged, middle eastern looking man.
I can’t quite remember how we came to talk about these things, probably I asked him where he was from and I think he perhaps said Lebanon, anyhow we started talking about the Arabian Spring and its implications for the Arab World. It turned out that he worked in diplomacy and had actually met both Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein through his work.
For some strange, unknown reason it moved me very much. I could feel tears were on their way.
While trying to find photos on his iPhone of his meetings with the dictators, he told me that they both should have been taken to court. In his opinion that would have been the most appropriate thing to do. Taken to court and sentenced. Executions without trial were unworthy of countries aspiring for democracy.
He found the photo, but then seemed somewhat reluctant to show it to me. I might be misinterpreting, I don’t know, but he showed it to me anyhow. And there he was, in stark sunlight, standing in a stairway, with a small group of people, surrounding Saddam Hussein.
By now tears had come to my eyes. I was on the verge of crying.
For some obscure reason I was deeply moved by what he was telling me. And mind you, I’m not a person who generally is to be found sobbing at 6 a.m. talking to strangers at sleazy bars. I can be found talking to strangers at sleazy bars or clip joints at 6 a.m. Certainly. But not sobbing.
Even now, sitting here writing about it, I can almost feel tears coming to my eyes again. Almost. I mean, they are in there, somewhere. And I’m trying to figure out why.
Why on earth should I feel so moved by meeting a guy who had met these abominable dictators? I didn’t even know what role he himself had or had had in diplomacy, he didn’t say. Was he for or against these regimes? I don’t know.
Shouldn’t I rather have rose to my feet, full of rage, spat on the ground and shouted: Off with their heads and good riddance. Low life bastards!
Well, I didn’t.
Musing about it, I have come to the conclusion, that these tears were caused by the hopes and fears I have had during the past year, on behalf of the courageous people in Tahrir Square in Cairo and by the brave and admirable liberation movements in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere on the planet, where people are fighting and dying at this very moment, for something I often tend to take for granted, the right to think and say what they want. Without having to be afraid of reprisals from authorities.
This guy acted as a catalyst for my amassed feelings. But I think there is more to it.
Every day we get so many horrible stories through the media, we’re presented with so much violence and pain. Everything seems so real, right there in front of us, on television, in our own living room and yet it’s just abstract, electronic shadows on an ice-cold screen.
Even though many channels try to serve their news more like some sort of infotainment, complete with soundtracks and cliffhangers, in order to catch our attention, to manipulate us into feeling more than we might without. And hang on through the commercials.
On me this kind of superficial icing often has the opposite result: I get so annoyed on this way of providing news that it either leaves me cold or I get angry because of all the circus surrounding the pure facts themselves. I mean, as if reality in itself wasn’t more than enough. I don’t need a soundtrack to understand the severity of a plane crash in Columbia.
However, there is, thank G.. , a wide span between my own day-to-day reality and the multitude of violence and real life drama, that I experience on television all the time. It is my belief, or ought I to say frail hope?, that most people in the world never experience as much violence and suffering during their entire lives as you and I are witnesses to on an average day of watching news on TV.
And because we are stuffed to suffocation with war, pain and catastrophes every minute of an average newscast, just like poor foie-gras geese with grain before Christmas, we have, to a certain extent, become immune to all this. On television at least, not, hopefully, in real life. It’s a necessity.
No one could keep their sanity if they really felt genuine compassion, during every newscast, for the people experiencing dreadful events.
I very often wonder what these daily blanket bombings with news do to us? What kind of people are we turning into? What do they do to our feelings? What do they do to our civilisation? No one can rightfully claim that we are unaffected. But to what degree and in what way they affect us I don’t know. I can only guess.
And one of my guesses is that we all amass tons of frustrated feelings, good and bad, feelings that we really don’t have any immediate outlet for.
But there, then, suddenly, completely unexpected and in tears, in a sleazy, jumping joint at 6 a.m., I was sitting in front of a guy who had actually been close to two dictators, prime causes of revolution and war. Who had met two of our times most hated and infamous men, sources of unspeakable fear, pain and suffering.
I could almost touch world history. This was reality, live!
It was, to me, in its own twisted, inverted way, a very big moment. A moment that brought me to tears.
However, afterwards, and also while he was telling me these things, in the midst of my tears, I had a sneaking doubt as to whether it was true. But what about the photo? Could be a fake. But how could he benefit from telling me a lie? Perhaps he was just a compulsive liar. I don’t know, he did a very good job indeed if he was, but I think he told me the truth. Alas, somehow, in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much. My tears were true.
I was so moved, I simply had to leave.
I rose abruptly. I could see he was a bit surprised, he liked talking to me and I liked talking to him, but I didn’t want to sit there crying. It was to private, to painful. I couldn’t share my tears, even though it was his story that had provoked them. So I excused myself to him and my pool playing friends, by saying I was getting smoke in my eyes and urgently needed some oxygen. I left the dark, smoky bar in a hurry, fled out into the sunshine, took deep breaths of fresh air. Walked on. Not to return.
Perhaps I regret I didn’t. Could have been extremely interesting to continue talking to this guy. Compulsive liar or not. But as it was, I walked on in the morning sun. And that’s that.
I had been reminded, though, of just how close we are to each other on our blue planet. Mostly without realising it.
The woman you accidentally bumped into yesterday in front of the supermarket, with your arms full of groceries, might have been related to the boy you just saw on the news, lying in a pool of blood in a dusty street. Or she might have been related to the girl, who was married in the cathedral, to the prince you saw in the clip right after. You simply don’t know.
I’m a gardener and a writer, living a peaceful life, that’s all I want. All I need. And I guess that’s what most people in the world really want.
But at that particular morning in my life I was separated from unbelievable terror and world history by only two degrees. And that is the closest, hopefully, that I will ever come to dictators like Hussein and Gaddafi.
John F. Kennedy said in a speech in 1963, something which is as relevant to our general situation in the world today, as it was to the arms race then:
“So, let us not be blind to our differences – – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
We are, all of us, on our blue planet, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, much closer to each other than we might realise.
We are all related.
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