Merigian Studios


Stone Soup

Can anyone make sense of the recent volleys of cannon fire between the President, the Democrats, and the Republicans? I cannot — the current actions that are unfolding amongst our President, the House of Representatives, and the Senate border on the absurd. If I chose to write a fiction novel about US politics, I could not have conceived of the political affairs that are happening now. Truth is stranger than fiction.

There is no question that the members of our current political structure have failed themselves as well as all of us, the citizens. I can only remember one other episode in my lifetime when the actions of our government went mad: The Vietnam War.

The conflict started on the first of November 1955. The war lasted twenty years. US military involvement in the war ended on 15 August 1973 as a result of the Case-Church Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress. I turned eighteen-years-old in 1974. I had a profound interest in the war because there was a mandatory draft. My number was 135. The military allegedly randomly assigned numbers to birthdates. I had to report to the draft office because the armed forces were inducting young men aged eighteen-years-old with numerals up to 170.

The military drafted several young men on my block: one was killed, one was wounded, and one returned to our neighborhood with severe PTSD. His name was Douglas Derderian. Douglas was a thick, average height man. He had olive colored skin. I as recall he did average in school. He had an older sister. His parents were on the elderly side of life; both were Armenian refugees from the Middle East.

When Douglas was fighting in Vietnam, his parents always worried about him. One Easter morning, his mother and father, sister, and her two children were driving to church on the Lodge Freeway in Detroit. Unknown to them, a car was traveling towards them over one hundred miles an hour in the opposing lane. The police were chasing the men in the car. It so happened that the criminals hit the curb, flipped over the median, and their front end smashed into the front windshield of his parents’ automobile. The vehicle crushed the top; it was embedded in their car. Douglas’ parents, sister, and one of his nephews were killed instantly. The small child who was sitting behind the passenger seat was unscathed although he had to be cut out from the wreckage. The accident made the headlines of the evening paper. My grandmother mourned for their families.

By the time Douglas returned from the war, the only home he knew sold to settle the debts of his parents’ estate. The military stationed Douglas on the front in the war theater. The Viet-Cong ambushed his reconnaissance unit. Everyone in his group died but him. Another unit dispatched to assist them in their firefight found him under a dead soldier. He was wounded but still breathing. The military awarded him a Purple Heart and gave him an honorable discharge. Physicians diagnosed him with PTSD; the doctors declared him fully disabled due to his injuries. I remember the day he returned to our neighborhood. He was disheveled, dirty, and unkept. He stopped by our home, cried in my grandmother’s arms. She fed him a great meal. He told stories of the war. He had no place to go. He wanted to roam the highways. He said he felt safe in the street. He said he could see anyone coming after him. At fourteen-years-old, I realized I did not want to go to war. I started paying attention to current events and reading everything about the war. I listened to newscasts about the war. The draft was dividing the country into two groups: those in favor of the war, and those who were not. I did not support the war.

People who were not affected by the war in any way seemed to believe the President should keep us fighting until the communists were defeated. They had no skin in the game. They felt that the government should exile any young man who left the country to avoid the draft. I thought those men were brave since they faded from their families, loved ones, and friends. My father it clear to me: if my number came up, I had to go to war. My father voluntarily served the military in peacetime.

Fortunately, the protests and civil activists persuaded Nixon and the Congress to stop the draft. I was in the first group with the 1-H status: draft hold. I was in my second year of college. Sixty thousand men were killed or missing. Hundreds of thousands of men were wounded both physically and mentally. Many were ruined forever. It took many years for our country to heal from the great divide. Today, some are still bitter about the loss of their sons in a conflict which was not really about stopping the communists. Some are still insistent that we should have finished the war before we pulled out, regardless of the economic or emotional cost.

Today we live in a country divided. It is not over a war, although our military is spread thinly over the globe. It is about the bottom-line gut beliefs of Americans who have and who have not. It is as if the founding fathers are fighting about the role of government all over again. Fortunately, they had a way to reconcile their differences. Unfortunately, we do not. The rules of the sandbox seem to apply in modern politics: I’ll take my toys and go home if I don’t get what I want.

Today’s definition of compromise means someone loses and someone wins. It’s one way or the other. People are stressed-out over the government shut down. People feel safely anonymous on social media even though their names are present so they speak their truth regardless of how others think about their posts. Many purposefully post hurtful and demeaning words, believing if you cannot take the pain, do not read their posts. Both right and left wing news media have become schools of sharks, feeding on any morsel of information, spitting up spin after spin of what they ingested to further their agendas. There is absolute Truth which is never the truth according to mankind.

I discuss politics and sometimes religion with my patients because it helps me to see all sides of common arguments. The same holds for my discussions with other professionals in healthcare. Patients have labeled me everything from a demon-healer to a liberal socialist. I am a left-leaning democrat centrist. I believe in balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility, smaller government, and affordable healthcare for everyone. I grew up in a social environment of tolerance and respect for everyone. Those ideas were embraced by the greatest leader of the modern western civilization: Marcus Aurelius. If he could hold the Roman Empire together despite the differences between hundreds of tribes and local politicians, surely we can find some way to make it work in our country.

The Great Wall of China is a testament that walls have multiple purposes, none of which are embraced today by the Chinese other than a tourist trap. In Shelby County, developers have erected walls around a hundred communities or more, giving the illusion that the barriers protect community members from criminal elements. When I moved to Memphis in 1991, I asked several developers to allow me to build my home in one of these walled communities. I was told countless times, “If you want a Califonia-Contemporary home, move to California. We don’t allow contemporary homes in our development. It’s bad for home values.” I built my California-Contemporary home in the outskirts of the county. I live remote from those gated communities. It appeared that those developers wanted only people of like mind to populate their communities. I understood the purpose of the wall; it had nothing to do with protection. The boundaries created inclusiveness amongst its members, assuring uniformity in both word and deed. The same holds for any border wall, especially in the modern era. It’s a delusion. Where there is a will, there is always a way. No physical barrier can stop those who wish to infiltrate society. Has anyone watched the unfoldments in Isreal? I have.

We should be careful not to allow the will of an individual to be promulgated as the will of the people. Every one of us needs to enjoy our will, giving others the freedom to enjoy their intention. Majority rule can only work if those in the majority can sympathize with those in the minority. The most significant charge of society is to grant dignity to all its members. I believe the most significant, most destructive change in America today is the erosion of dignity. It appears as if celebrities and the wealthy are given dignity without question, even if they lack self-respect and are reprehensible. Everyone else struggles to achieve it. People have dehumanized others to promote their dignity. If we dehumanize a race or religion or sexual preference or employment status, we can justify hate in all of the forms. I have heard people speak about the unemployed as free-loaders, but they are quick to reclassify the disabled as deserving financial assistance and those who can work but choose not to as societal parasites. How many times have I heard, “If they don’t work, they don’t deserve healthcare.”  I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. EMTALA (federal law) defines it as a right, especially if anyone goes to an emergency department for acute medical care. The hospital cannot turn anyone away from an emergency department until a physician diagnoses the illness and treats it. The urgently ill have a right to care. So should all of the infirm.

From my conversations with multi-millionaires, most of them believe that those who live a simple life are ill-dignified. Those who live on family trust funds tend to be self-absorbed. For the most part, trust fund kids who are unemployed are no different than those who live on government assistance; neither of them works nor contributes to society. They both are the perfect consumer. Many social researchers have pointed out the changes in our younger generations, often citing that they are consumed with what they can get from society; a far cry from what they could do for others — entitlement and degeneration of dignity, two poisons that will ultimately kill a nation without a whimper.

The country is made up of two distinct groups: those who believe they have a right to determine the fate of all others based on their religious or sociological world views and those who think others have a choice to decide their distinct fate. Mix a little entitlement and loss of dignity into each group, and we’ll end up with a society that values self over all other concerns of their neighbors. All boats will sink except those who own a yacht.

We should consider gathering and making Stone Soup.





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