Not long ago, I happened to be down in Rancho Mirage, a beautiful town east of Palm Springs. I had the great pleasure of being visited by my old college roommate, Arthur Best, a distinguished professor of law and a simply great guy.
We went into Palm Springs to hear two pals perform, Laura Hagen, a brilliant and versatile vocalist, and Marty Steele, an all-around superb keyboardist.
When we got to the Hotel Zoso — where they were performing — we found that a great folk singer from my youth, Janis Ian, was doing a benefit for some cause. I do not know exactly what the cause was, but a woman sitting near us said it was for Women Democrats. Janis Ian looked wonderful and sang beautifully.
As she took a break, she talked about the “struggle” that gay women have to be able to marry whom they wanted without the government oppressing them. The crowd loved it.
The next day, as I was watching some news show, I watched the sports segment where a commentator talked about the “struggle” of such-and-such a team to get its ground game together.
Then, not long after that, I was at a spectacularly large bar and restaurant in Rancho Mirage. The establishment was called “The Yardhouse.” As I sat at a booth by myself eating a brownie with vanilla ice cream, four men and women in their 20s came over to me and discussed their lives since they graduated from high school nearby nine years ago. It was a “struggle,” they said, to find a job that matched their talents and their dreams.
The bar was raucous, hot, overflowing with men and women eating good food and drinking good drinks, watching one or more of the dozens of TV sets scattered around the cavernous room. It was truly amazing how boisterous and cheery the place was.
After I left, I went to an art gallery where a talented photographer was showing his magnificent nature studies. There were forests and bodies of water and it all seemed to glow, possibly because of the way it was lit. The manager came over to talk to me. It was a “struggle,” he said, to keep the photos lit properly to show off the talent of the photographer. (It would also have been a struggle to pay for the photos, which were breathtakingly expensive, at least to my untutored eye.)
It was unusually cold for Rancho Mirage that night, and I thought to myself, “Benjy, it’s going to be a struggle for you to swim outside, even in your heated pool, on a night like tonight.”
And then I shook my head at myself. None of the “struggles” I had seen or heard about was really a struggle as human beings know struggle. It was all a frolic and a detour, as we lawyers say.
Yes, of course there are real struggles: the single mother trying to take care of her home and her children on no money and running on fumes of exhaustion. The man or woman suffering with cancer — as so incredibly many of my friends are right now. The father who has lost his job and genuinely seeks work and cannot find it and counts the days until his home will be foreclosed upon.
But the real struggles are those of the fighting men and women of this nation, the men and women who face death each day, who stand at lonely outposts and face snipers and mortars and suicide bombers who are determined to kill the very people who are trying to help them.
These people — we call them the armed forces of the United States of America — know what real struggle means. Their families, waiting at home, worried sick, know what real struggle is. Their widows and orphans, lashed by grief and loneliness, they also know what real struggle is.
I make this point because as I go through daily life in America, I almost never hear anyone talking about the fact that we are at war. The war in Iraq (it’s still going on) and the war in Afghanistan might as well be happening on another planet.
I just wonder how we can ever win wars that we pretend do not exist. It’s just not possible, it seems to me, to win a war that you are waging with your left hand while trying to pretend that all is normal and all is beer and Skittles back here at home.
The man on patrol looking for the IEDs that wait to kill him if he isn’t alert, the woman dreading the arrival of the black sedan at her door, the mother and father looking at the photos of their son in his football outfit and then thinking about him under rocket attack — these people are truly in a “struggle.” Attention must be paid. Persons and societies win when they pay attention.
They lose when they lose focus on what is important, on what is a real struggle and what is not.
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