Chivalry Our Lord's-Style, ca. A.D. 33

I saw a video on one of my friend's Facebook feeds the other night, one of those videos taken with a mobile phone that can now be uploaded to the world from anywhere in the world. It was one of a number of videos taken at the same time--you could see all the other people in the scene holding up their phones, too--so I don't know how many of them there are of this particular incident. The scene is a street and there are about a dozen or so men standing round, most of them with their faces covered by black ski masks. In the middle of the group, there is an older woman, dressed in a black gown with her hair covered also in black. She is carrying a red backpack. The men, according to the description of the video that my friend gave, are talking with her about how offensive they find it that she will not cover her face, too. All of the men are carrying guns.

I cannot watch this video, it is too awful. Because my friend told me what happens. After talking with the woman for a few minutes (the video is only 2 and a half minutes long), one of the men puts a gun to her head and kills her. For refusing to cover her face. These men are not knights. I hesitate even to call them warriors. They are murderous thugs, even worse than the Vikings, because Vikings did not carry cell phones with which to broadcast their killings to the world. These men should know better, there are standards, there are things you do and do not do to women and children, even in warfare, never mind when you are standing calmly in the daylight out on the street. And yet, they kill her. And then at least one of them posted his video for all the world to see.

"Be perfect," Jesus told the people who had gathered round to listen to him in the Temple. Actually, that is not exactly what he said, according to Matthew. I am remembering Robert Powell in Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth (1977), with his blue eyes and his high cheekbones and his British accent and his perfect teeth: "Be perfect," he tells the people, "just as our Father in heaven is perfect. Ask for this gift, and it shall be given you. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and the door shall be opened. What father refuses his child?"

"Be perfect." I was twelve the year Jesus of Nazareth aired on television as a miniseries, the same year that Star Wars came out. I had, of course, been going to church for years before this, quite literally ever since I could remember. At least, I remember my baptism at age five or six, when we were living in Omaha, Nebraska, while my father was stationed as a surgeon at Offutt Air Force Base. He spent a year there, and then we were there a second year, while he was stationed in Thailand, stitching together the young men who had been wounded in the war. From Nebraska, we moved back to New Mexico, where Dad joined us, thin and haunted by what he had seen overseas, and then we moved on to Louisville, so that he could train as a heart surgeon, still carrying with him the pain that he could not shake. He left our mother a few years later for a younger woman, another doctor, whom he met while on his second residency. They moved away to Nevada, and my father never came back.

No, he didn't die, and I saw him regularly, every year at Thanksgiving, from when I was twelve until just before he died in 2005. But my father...my father the young surgeon who went off to serve his country as his father had done in World War II, that man never came back because he could not forget what he had seen. He wrote a novel about it in the last decade or so before he died, I have the typescript somewhere. There was lots of fantasy in it about riding helicopters on daring rescue missions in the jungle, and I have no idea how much of it was true. There was another young woman, actually, probably more than one, that the main character--he called him Buck--fell in love with (my brother has sometimes wondered whether we might not have half-siblings on that side of the world). And then Buck came back to the States and started falling in love with strippers.

That part, I know, was real, at least after my step-mother divorced my father and he got so depressed that he could barely speak for almost a year. The part about the strippers, I mean. I met one of them about a year or two before he died. She was about twenty-five or so (he was pushing sixty-five), and my father just couldn't stop talking about how brilliant she was. No education to speak of, but boy, she was smart. At least that is what he liked to say. I think she lived with him for awhile, but maybe she just lived off his money, I'm not sure, we only met the once. The day he died, she had vanished with one of his trucks. There were over 200 people at his funeral--medical students and fellow doctors, friends from AA--but we never saw her, or the truck, or most of his things again. We used up all the money left in his estate paying off what we could of the credit card bills and other debts that he had left, but even then we were only able to pay his creditors in part. (Dad was nothing if not generous with his friends.) The bank repossessed the house he had bought only a few years before because there wasn't enough left to pay the mortgage long enough to keep it on the market for sale.

My father was a good man, don't get me wrong. And he was a fabulous teacher and surgeon. Those 200 people at the funeral all told me so, over and over and over again as they came down the line shaking my hand and whispering to me how much he had taught them, how much he had given them, how he had saved their life. But till the day he died, he couldn't really stop drinking, and he smoked like a chimney, and he would never back down from a fight--except to fling himself away from the table and stalk out in search of a bar. "You, therefore, must be perfect," Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). But my father was very far from perfect.

No, I can't watch that video, because I do not want to see those men kill that poor woman. That woman who has done nothing in her life to deserve being executed for refusing to cover her face. Those men are evil because not one of them--not one of them was willing to risk his life to save hers, to stand up to his comrades-in-arms and say, "THIS IS WRONG, WE SHOULD NOT BE KILLING WOMEN." My father, my father however imperfect he may have been, would NOT have stood by as they murdered her, just as he did not stand by when our country called him to war in order to take care of its wounded. So if you want to know why I think that chivalry matters, that it is white men like my father whom we should thank for being the men that they are, know this: my father spent his life saving the lives of the very people whom you say I hate because I refuse to back down when they are in need. Did I mention that my father worked as a trauma surgeon in downtown Louisville, Kentucky (he eventually moved back after his second divorce), and that most of the people he cared for there had been shot or stabbed, yes, because they were dealing drugs or fighting over turf or all of the things that our young men in our inner cities do? Like the young man who died across the street from our apartment building this summer after having been shot by a member of a rival gang? My father, if he were still with us, would have been the one operating on him to try to save his life, and he would not have cared a flying f*ck what was the color of his skin.

This is my final text:
You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
--The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Matthew 5:43-48 (RSV, from the copy of the Holy Bible that was given to me by my mother's church the year I graduated from high school)

Popular posts from this blog

The Merry Medievalist

Judge MILO

How to Signal You Are Not a White Supremacist

Why Dorothy Kim Hates Me

Catch-22: Christmas in America