Monday, September 25, 2006

Girl from the 'hood

1993 - 2006

Just before Christmas 1993 I got a call from my mom, asking if we'd be interested in getting another cat. It seems that a stray had found its way into their garage and had made itself at home. She said they would keep it until we went there at Christmas. A flame tip Siamese, with orange ears and face and blue eyes, it was love at first sight. She was named Holly, partly after Holly Golightly (another stray) and also because it was Christmas. There is a house around the block from my parents where I've seen several cats that look like her and I loved having a cat from the neighborhood where I grew up.

While Holly possessed a quiet determination, she was never stubborn, and even as a kitten showed amazing strength. One day, on arriving home, I found a blanket in the doorway of the bedroom. Holly loved to play with and tug on this blanket, but to this day I still don’t know how the tiny kitten could have dragged the blanket off of the bed and several feet across the room.

She was also intensely loyal and caring. Holly had always been the "baby" and because she was small, looked like a kitten until she was about 4. When Rita joined the family a few years later, an as yet unseen maternal instinct blossomed overnight and she watched carefully and lovingly over the little kitten. Since Rita’s litter had been abandoned at birth, rescued at three or four days old, and raised by hand, Holly was the only maternal figure she ever knew.

A few years back, when my friend Mona became ill during a visit, Holly stayed by her the whole time, earning the nickname "Holly Nightingale."

Last February, I found a growth on her lower abdomen. After testing, it was removed and determined to be a malignant tumor. I planned to go ahead with follow-up treatment, but before she had fully recovered from the surgery, another growth had appeared. This one was removed as well, and in May I consulted with a veterinary oncologist. However, the treatment might have given her a year, maybe 18 months, and it just didn't seem like it was worth putting her through anything more. So I resolved to make what time she had left as pleasant as possible and to enjoy her as much as I could.

Up until the past week, when her condition began to decline, she continued to show the strength and resiliency that led the staff at the veterinarian's office to nickname her "the miracle kitty."

Today, however, I knew that the end was near. She wasn't interested in eating and wouldn't respond when I called her (she'd usually meow back at me). Late this evening, as I was going to bed, I noticed her breathing had become labored and a while later she began to occasionally cry out. Knowing that sleep was impossible, I got up to watch over her, telling myself that the time had come and steeling myself for a visit to the vet in the morning to have her put to sleep.

I found her laying under the dining table and picked her up and carried her to the couch to talk with her and comfort her. Rita sat on the other side, occasionally licking her ear or the top of her head. It was one of those times when it seems like nothing else exists outside of the room you're in.

Around 2:45am, her breath stilled, then she relaxed and quietly passed away. Two of the hardest things about being a pet owner are that you know that you will probably outlive your pet and that (other than in the case of accidents) you will probably have to choose when the end comes.

I had anticipated that this end would come in the vet's office and would be of my choosing, as it had been with my other cats. But it was so like Holly to relieve me of that responsibility, and to depart life in the same way that she lived it: in her own time and with quiet steps.

Holly is survived by her sister Rita (who, as I type this, is sleeping next to her) and now joins her brother Jem and sister Tess.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Failures in justice...failures in mercy...

I thought the best post for today might be to reexamine commentary from five years ago and I've chosen Michael Ventura's column "The 21st Century Announces Itself" as it was one of the first that I read that seemed to echo the feelings that were only then beginning to coalesce.

After the initial shock had subsided, the waves of consolation from around the globe was more than just comforting, it actually seemed for a time that some good might come from this, that the nations of the world might say “no more.” Now however, we know now that well before Ventura wrote “it remains to be seen, as I write, what America will do,” those in our government had already decided what we would do: We would use this attack by al Qaeda as grounds for imposition of repressive policies at home and a criminally misguided ill-planned policy of regime change in Iraq.

The tragedy of September 11 is not limited to the lives lost or absences created in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, nor even in the deaths that have followed as a result of the “War on Terrorism.”

Another tragedy, one of a greater scope, springs from the fact that on September 12 the concept of “The Ugly American” had been rendered almost non-existent. The goodwill and support which all but a handful of the world’s nations directed towards us was perhaps unequalled in our history. This was a gift, one borne of tragedy, but a gift nonetheless. It was our chance to complete the last step of the Cold War: to transform ourselves from the lone remaining superpower into a superleader. A chance to set the tone for a new age of growth and development. To recognize that poverty, ignorance and repression were the true breeding grounds for al Qaeda and to lead the world in eliminating the potential for future terrorists.

Instead, we chose a course of demonization, racism, tyranny and fear mongering and have now done more for terrorist recruitment than a hundred bin-Laden’s could have accomplised in a hundred years. As Scott Ritter said, al Qaeda was a hornet’s nest and we hit it with a baseball bat. Where our wealth and status might have been used to lead and inspire, we’ve chosen to control by fear, torture, intimidation, and the disregard of the most basic tenets of western law.

2,993 people died in the attacks of September 11, and when mourning them it’s important to consider that not all were Americans. As an economic center, as one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet and as home to the U.N. the attack on New York was an attack on the world. Yes, it was a terrible wake up call to America and brought home the reality of terrorism, but we were not unique. In fact, we were one of the last major countries in the world to have been subject to a terrorist attack from outside elements. While 9/11 may have been the day our luck ran out, we didn’t have to make it exclusively about us.

We’d be fooling ourselves to think those who died on 9/11 will be the last victims of al Qaeda within our own borders. More attacks are inevitable. But there is a difference between killing some of us and destroying the principles that our country was founded upon. Only we can do the latter, and in the course of five years we’ve done quite well.

Beyond the loss of life, we have also lost the ability to stand before the nations of the world with any shred of legitimacy as an example and freedom and justice. Instead, we are now among the nations whose governments believe pre-emptive attack is justified, who consider due process a privilege, the Geneva Conventions a matter of convenience, propaganda and fear an acceptible means for gaining public support, and who do not believe government leaders are accountable to the laws they are supposed to uphold. Of course, many will say that these principles fell by the wayside long ago, and they’re partially right. It would be naïve to think that our image has not become tarnished over time. Nevertheless, there has never been an administration which has held these principles (and their adherents) in such disregard and with such contempt.

How we responded to the 21st Century's "announcement of itself" would define our future. Our actions in the subsequent years strongly indicates that al Qaeda doesn’t need to attack us again. We’ve already lost and are no different than those we once considered our worst enemies.

Where once we found strength in knowing that we had nothing to fear but fear itself, we now have nothing to fear but ourselves.