“When the war ended I transported surviving prisoners from the death march.
“I was a pilot in world war two, I flew transport.” Retired engineer Walter reminisced as he described one of his war memories. “When the war ended I transported surviving prisoners from the death march. When they were released they were very undernourished and ill. The first thing they did was to eat. And, from eating too much too fast; most of them developed Elephantiasis. I remember to this day the way their legs looked.”
I met Walter though a guy named Bing, and Bing I ran into one day at a Starbuck’s. The guy was a social magnet, his friends were fascinating, and to this day whenever we run into each other we remember the day of what I’ve now lovingly titled “The Walter/Bing debates.”
Now back to the experience of meeting Walter, or best as I can, seeing that he and Bing continually debated on a range of controversial topics the whole time I was with them. You know the stuff they say you should never talk about in social groups or at work. Safe issues for public discussion. Things like politics, religion, the presidential agenda, the nation’s deficit, its causes, and views the pros and cons of America’s military and its involvement in global issues. Again, the safe topics!
Per Walter’s advice to the world, “Don’t get in another war!” he boldly shared.
Bing just couldn’t resist, “May I say something!?”
The trigger was pulled and the debates were called to action.
But here is what I loved about these guys. Even though they so didn’t agree with each other on many a point. They managed to express their opposed views with the greatest of respect. Over and over again finding intersections of agreement as they showed the highest of respect in the way they repeatedly corrected one another. That alone was a cause to applaud.
I just sat, smiling and doing the best I could to keep up with their narrative. However, my silent observations were short-lived. Walter turned to me, “What do you think about our guy in the Whitehouse?”
Now here is was the dilemma. For the sake of editorial integrity, the last thing I wanted to do was to manipulate the direction of our interview. Yet, even though I was invited into the discussion, introduced to me as a free forum of opinions, it would have been so wrong for me to plant my own agenda in manipulating the outcome of their interactions. Then the answer came to me, “I think Walter goes to the same barber, doesn’t he?”
Walter let out a belly laugh and the ethics-killing bullet had been avoided.
Walter and Bing chest up again. Edgy words are thrown left and right, but in all, the presence of good will was evident. These guys very much respected and appreciated each other, and I felt honored to have witnessed the way their differing world views were exchanged.
In the sun-drenched shade of a little strip mall, Walter and Bing had proven to me that the strongest of stances could truly co-exist, even be openly discussed in an atmosphere that was null of guile.
The conversation shifted to the American presence in world issues. An obvious patriot and veteran of the battles for the freedoms we have, Walter stepped hard with his perspective. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be an American,” But I do not believe that America is exceptional. The British feel that way, the French feel that way, the Italians feel that way. But, we’re not exceptional. We are a nation of people who are trying to do the best they can; and I don’t think that for any country to be going around saying they’re better than anyone else is a good way to live.”
Bing’s breathing hastened and debates again irrupted. I stepped back to observe. In the end they agreed on one thought, Walter paused and smiled at me, “Bing plays a pretty good game of tennis.”
I’m telling you. I loved these guys!
I asked Walter about the future. He responded, “One thing is that we will be living on other planets. I know it’s kind of a weird idea. But, we are going to deplete a lot of the resources we have here. The ozone layer problem is going to get worse and worse, and I think we’ll probably run out of biological energy.
Walter asked, “Have I given you enough?”
By that time I was completely exhausted from trying to keep up with the Bing/Walter debates. We’re good, Walter! it’s been great chatting with you. I responded.
Walter stood, gathered his stuff and shared one departing word of wisdom, “It’s good to see people thinking beyond today and tomorrow. Keep the project going.”
Thanks Walter! we will!