Thurman P. Woodfork


Why do people keep up the curious fiction of claiming one cannot understand the experiences of another unless they have also lived through the same or closely similar circumstances? Stephen Crane never took part in any war, but you couldn’t tell that by reading “The Red Badge of Courage”.

I have never been a slave, but I can imagine the fear, terror, and despair of the poor souls chained and stacked below the decks of slave ships headed toward a terrifying unknown. I have never been displaced from my homeland, but I can also imagine the dejection, anger, and, perhaps, weary acceptance of those whose feet passed over The Trail of Tears, though I never took a step there.

I have never been wounded, but I have assisted the wounded. I have looked into their faces, listened to their distressed breathing, witnessed their pain, wiped their blood from my hands, and sometimes watched them die. I have seen death in war and peace, death both accidental and deliberate. I have seen pain and agony, sorrow and terror, sadness, despair, and the sometimes abject acceptance of a dismal fate, all thought of resistance gone. I would have to be made of granite not to have absorbed and retained some of what I saw.

I have met, poor, begging, homeless children in some of the countries I passed through in my peripatetic military life. I have never been homeless, and I have never gone hungry for as long as some of those children, but I can empathize with their desire to be warm and clean and loved. And safe. No, I may never know the absolute fullness of their emotions, but I can surely perceive a lot of what they feel.

War, poverty, cruelty, greed, and the sometimes utterly loathsome acts that attend them are far from uncommon in this world. They’re more or less everyday occurrences, and it’s the rare human who has never experienced even a hint of any of these things. So what makes our particular tribulations something that no one other than a fellow sufferer could understand?

Lawrence O’Donnell never attended a school with dirt floors and no desks, not even for the teachers. But he saw, understood, and empathized with those who did. So he cared – he cared enough to do something about it. Don’t spurn those who seek to understand your difficulty – scorn the ones who could care less. Like the Congresspersons and lobbyists such as the members of Chambers of Commerce who would deny the 9/11 First Responders relief with nothing more than a hollow “Thank you”.

And that is what brought me to this rambling, disgruntled outpouring – the feckless words John McCain, lionized as a hero, bestowed upon another hero. Senator McCain met a medically retired firefighter who is suffering from respiratory complications as a result of his efforts during and following the 9/11 disaster. The two happened to meet in the Capitol rotunda and the firefighter asked McCain how he would vote on the Zadroga 9/11 relief bill being stonewalled in Congress by Republicans.

McCain replied that he couldn’t help the man as he quickly dodged around him and into an elevator. “Thank you for your service,” he added, before the doors closed. Ugh. What does the Honorable John McCain feel? “Thank you for your service”? I think I’m beginning to dislike that phrase.