It was one of those days when I was sorry I had any contact with the newspaper, radio or television.
Two stories, unconnected except in their sorrow, combined to steal the joy from my heart and trounce all over it much like that gorilla stomped all over that luggage in those old American Tourister commercials.
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The first was the hostage taking, and resulting carnage, at the grade school in the southern Russia town of Beslan. The images of terror-stricken men frantically carrying half-naked, bloody children to safety are ones I wish I'd never seen.
As the details became known -- over 1,300 hostages, most of them kids and moms arriving for the first day of fall classes, 394 dead, 25 heavily-armed terrorists, some of them women -- I did what I'm sure many of you found yourself doing upon hearing of the tragedy, I projected myself into the scenario.
I imagined turning on the news and finding out that the local school here was under siege and that my wife and child were inside.
I imagined the horror of what it would be like to be stuck outside knowing that the people that I love the most were being terrorized inside, forced to strip off their clothes to cope with the stifling heat and to drink their own urine to stave off dehydration.
Then I did something that I'm also sure that many of you did. I got sick.
Being able to project ourselves into such horrible scenarios is a wonderful coping mechanism. It allows us to see across national, gender and racial barriers and see people as people. It permits us to feel compassion and find humanity in situations where those two words and deeds are so horrifically lacking.
Many people want to know why terrorists would do such a thing. How could they attack children? What was their motivation? What did they think that this would prove?
I don't have even the smallest desire to know what thoughts lie in the hearts and minds of ones so evil. I do, however, want to share the grief of the victims. I want to mourn for the loss of innocent lives and let the people of Beslan know that they do not stand alone in their hour of darkness.
I want terrorists to know that hope is the world's most precious commodity and their actions, however heinous, cannot take that from us. I want them to know that they acted in vain.
It was while thinking those thoughts that story No. 2 hit me like a right cross follow-up to a left jab lead.
The Toronto Film Festival was getting ready to open. Amid the debuts of films both big and small was a documentary by Canadian filmmaker Zev Asher. The film is a look at one of Canada's most reviled citizens -- Jesse Power. It is titled "Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat."
In 2001, Power and two friends videotaped the torture and killing of a stray cat, posthumously named Kensington by animal rights activists, and turned it in to their university art class. They were subsequently arrested and sentenced to varying lengths of jail time, community service and probation.
The story I read was by a film critic defending the film's right to be at the festival. Animal rights activists were upset that the film was slated to be shown and were calling for it to be banned. The critic's argument was that Asher's film contains no footage from Power's sickening video and that people should see the film before denouncing it.
I have no problem with Asher's documentary, but I don't ever want to see it. I have no desire to know the motives that Power and his two flunkies might offer for their actions. The only thought I care to give to these beings that are something decisively less than human falls in lockstep with the sentiments expressed by my friend Stuart.
"I know how to deal with those guys," Stuart said. "Forget prison, forget community service, just lock them in a room with me for 10 minutes and I'll avenge the memory of that poor cat."
Stuart's words got me wishing I could have a go at Power and the Russian terrorists. Just 10 minutes to mete out some justice in the honorable tradition of the Old West. I knew that it would never happen. It was just a fantasy to ease my mind.
And that's when it hit me.
I'd already beaten the terrorists and I'd already bested Power.
I love children, not just my own, but all children. I take every opportunity to nurture a child's dream and expand a child's mind. I buy a candy bar from every kid who approaches me. I never pass a lemonade stand without stopping for a glass. I've received numerous e-mails from kids doing research for school papers and they are the first ones I answer.
I can't do a damned thing to save the kids lost in Beslan, but I can help the ones here in Western New York.
I can't do anything to help poor Kensington, but I can, and did, save Rusty.
Rusty is an orange tabby who is lying at my feet as I type these words. He is 11 years old, but I've only known him for two years. Rusty lived with the old woman across the street from me. Like many elderly ladies, she fawned over her cats. Rusty was well-fed, well-groomed and spoiled rotten. He ate the best food, wore the fanciest collar and spent his days purring the hours away. If not for the intervention of fate, Rusty and I may well have lived out our days as strangers.
The woman was involved in a car crash, spent several months in the hospital, and died. Rusty found himself a cat without a home.
For reasons known only to him, Rusty was soon on my porch. My wife asked what we should do. We decided to feed him some tuna fish. He gobbled it down like it was filet mignon. He kept showing up on the porch and we kept feeding him. One day, the wife decided to let him inside "just for a few minutes." He immediately made himself comfortable. Soon, his few minute stays turned into all-day excursions.
One morning I noticed people moving things out of the woman's house. I went over and introduced myself to her daughter. It was then that I learned of the car crash and the woman's demise. The daughter told me that they were looking for a home for her cats. Her other cat, Mew-Mew, didn't possess Rusty's moxie and never responded when I called to him. The daughter told me that, unless they found a home for Rusty, he would be taken to the SPCA.
Now, I've always been much more of a dog person than a cat lover. My dog and I are as thick as thieves and love to spend time together horsing around in the backyard or going on long walks. Cats I've always found to be distant and aloof. I immediately told the daughter that we would adopt Rusty, seeing as how he had already adopted us, and that is what we did.
Just a few months later, Rusty developed a urinary tract infection -- on a Saturday night, no less -- and the emergency vet on Grand Island charged us over $700 to make him right again.
We paid it and now when people visit I say to them, "Have you ever wondered what a $700 cat looks like? Well, it's not a Siamese or a Persian, but this little bugger right here and I've got the receipt to prove it."
Somehow, I'd like to think that Kensington the cat would be happy to know that Rusty found shelter and love in my home. Just as I'd like to think that the kids lying inside the tiny coffins in Beslan would take comfort in knowing that there will still be lemonade stands open for business when the sun rises tomorrow.
I ended the day that I read the two stories by kissing my son and tucking him into bed and by petting Rusty until he purred long and deep.
It was just the tonic I needed.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Sept. 21 2004|