I was in the kitchen using all the might I could muster to scrub a counter that didn't need cleaning. I had to do something physical while I waited for the fury and the disappointment to dissipate. I was so mad at my dad.
My dad and I never argue, but a news report about the Fort Hood incident had us at each other's throats. I had been serving him dinner when a reporter on TV said that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was no longer intubated. My dad made an obscene noise, shook his head, and said: "God is very just, I'm sure He won't let that murderer get out of that bed."
I didn't like the remark. "That's a horrible thing to say papi, you don't even know why the man did what he did."
My dad gave me a look filled with indignation. "Who cares why. He is obviously a crazy religious fanatic and we'll be better off if he is dies."
"How do you know he is a 'religious fanatic'? He probably had a nervous breakdown. Who knows what was going through that poor man's mind at the moment he pulled the trigger..."
My dad didn't let me finish. "I like that you always try to find good in everything and everyone, but there is no goodness in this. Anyone who gets up and shoot a whole bunch of innocent people is obviously evil."
"I'm not trying to justify the man papi, all I'm saying is that we can't be so quick to judge. You weren't at Walter Reed for years, trying to get into the brains of the boys who had lost half their minds in the war. You don't know what it feels like to stand in front of a 19-year-old kid who is missing his legs and one eye, trying to find a way to tell him that the nightmares might never go away. That does things to people...!"
"But... that's what he was trained for chiquita (Spanish for little one)." My dad didn't sound so sure anymore.
"One is trained to handle situations as they are happening; to adapt and overcome in order to get the job done, but at the end of it all, the memories... the nightmares... they stay. One has to deal with them. Alone. Some people are strong--or lucky--and survive. Others lose their heads trying to stay normal, but end up doing unspeakable things." I looked away to keep my dad from seeing the tears that were staring to form in my eyes. I scrubbed and scrubbed that counter, trying to erase stains that weren't there.
My dad didn't say anything else. He just got up and left. I looked at the table and felt bad because he didn't finish his dinner.
I went to my room, laid on my bed and let the tears flow freely. Soon a very unsettling thought came to mind: Am I defending a man who killed 13 people! I glanced at the statue of a kid wearing military uniform and holding a Dominican flag. It was a present from the mother of a blind Soldier who I helped while I worked as a military case manager between the National Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The blind Soldier was not a pleasant man; he was arrogant and ill spoken, but he was on of us, so I helped anyway. Plus, I always told myself that I would be mad at the world too, if I had been shot in the head and lost my eyesight as a result.
One day the Soldier was particularly rude to me. He called me every name in the book and a few that weren't. I waited for him to spit out all his venom, then went to my office to think of the best way to inform him that his behavior was unacceptable.
His mother caught up to me a few minutes later. "I have something for you."
"Oh..." I was kind of lost for words. "Thanks ma'am, but you didn't have to."
She extended the little statue. "Please take this, so you know someone appreciates all you've done for my boy."
I accepted the gift. "Thanks for gesture, but I must tell you that you don't need to give me anything. Every service member will show the same kindness to your child ma'am. He is one of us, and we take care of our own."
That memory helped me understand why I felt like I had to give Maj. Hasan the benefit of a doubt. I wasn't defending a killer, I was showing solidarity to a service member who saw the same horrors I had seen. Who knows... he might end up being the murderous 'religious fanatic' my dad spoke of, but until I know for sure, I'll pray for his soul. And I will continue praying even if it is proved that his actions were deliberate, for the soul of someone who commits such a heinous act needs all the prayer the world has to offer.
Today, and always, I pray for the victims of war: the ones killed, the ones doing the killing, and the ones sitting at home looking for someone to blame.