THE WAR … NOTHING ELSE SEEMS TO MATTER

In some ways, this is the hardest column I have ever had to write, hard because, for the first time in my life, I have no interest in writing it. This has never happened before. I love my work. I love wandering around the sports world, breathing in its funny drama, writing it down.

I have lost interest now. I seem to have no interest in anything these last two days other than sitting in front of the TV screen, trying to crawl inside this horrible war. The sports page seems a million miles away. The NFL playoffs mean as much to me as what color socks I am wearing. Phone calls disturb me. Getting hungry disturbs me. Everything that might distract my attention from this flickering screen — my umbilical cord to the most terrifying war in the history of man — only pesters me. I want it to go away.

And yet there are things to be said, feelings to address. Earlier Thursday, at the suggestion of my bosses, I wrote a column about sports and their place during a war. I wrote that to call for the cancellation of football games — as some people are doing — is to give them too much importance. Sports, especially pro sports, are really no different from any other job, yours or mine. The players are paid, the hot dog vendors are paid, the broadcasters are paid. It is we, the fans, who make the big fuss. And we can stop that. So why deny sports people their right to work? If you go to the office during this war, why shouldn’t they?

An hour ago, I threw that column out. Even that debate seems silly now. When I was 4 years old, I met a girl in nursery school. Her name was Mimi. We played together, did finger paints, did building blocks. Later we were classmates in junior high school. I had a crush on her and, I think, she had a crush on me. I remember slow-dancing with her at a party in her basement. I was 12. She was 13. The song was “So Far Away” by Carole King. What a thrill it seemed then.

Mimi lives in Israel now, she is married, with a baby girl. Her home is in a Tel Aviv suburb — a mile from where the bombs exploded Thursday night. For one terrible hour, we were told those bombs had chemical warheads, that their poison was spreading in the air, that it could do unspeakable evil to those who breathed it.

I pictured Mimi again in the basement, a different basement now, a gas mask over her face, fearing for her life. I can’t call her. I can’t get through.

I can’t stop thinking about it. A ringside seat to the horror

How have we come to this? Every moment is almost surreal, bombs falling thousands of miles away, the noise of their impact coming across our TV screens as we sit in our living rooms. This, already, is a war like no other, bullets fly, shells explode — and we are told instantly what they mean. We see pictures of people running for cover, we see reporters rip off their headphones and jump into a bomb shelter. We go from Jordan to Israel to Washington to Saudi Arabia. We needn’t move; the screen takes us.

At one crazy moment Thursday night, an anchor in New York told a reporter in Saudi Arabia that bombs were headed his way. Can you believe we, as civilians, have better communications through our TV sets than Gen. MacArthur had at his military disposal during World War II?

And we are just spectators.

This is an awful feeling, a flood of impotence. The war dominates your brain, it follows you in the car, in the office, it follows you to sleep.

I cannot shake it. And so, to talk about the Super Bowl — should it go on, should it be canceled, what about the NBA? — for some reason, only leaves me with one numbing thought: Who cares? It’s about people — on both sides

I know this is not right. In a crazy way, I guess, sports are part of what our troops are fighting for: the right to gather together, friends and family, for an afternoon of pleasure, free from worry, free from aggression. Life goes on. It is a lesson of war.

There are others. During the initial hours of fighting Wednesday night, three CNN reporters, on worldwide TV, gave riveting accounts of the
“fireworks” nature of the U.S. bombings from outside their window. They did excellent reporting. But at no time did they mention that with every “flash of light,” people were probably killed, Iraqi people, human beings who, despite being the enemy, still had families and loved ones, they still count.

This is another lesson: Ours or theirs, these are still human beings. To ignore their death would be to learn no lessons from the horror we are watching.

And it is horror.

I guess I’ve sort of rambled though this column, and I apologize. As I said, my heart isn’t really in it. I have a lot of friends in Israel. I have a brother-in-law in San Francisco who, at any moment, could be called up to fly in the front line of U.S. bombers.

And I think about Mimi. It’s funny. I talk to her only once or twice a year now. But for some reason, I always remember to call on her birthday. That party in her basement, it was on her birthday, so I remember the date, and she gets a big kick out of that, because she knows I usually can’t remember my own address.

I look at the calendar now and I realize her birthday is next week. Will I even find her by then? I picture her with that gas mask on, afraid for her life, and I don’t know. I’m trying to keep my mind on my work, I really am, but I’m losing the battle.

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