Breakfast at The Cottage: A Moral Dilemma

In case you’re wondering, my nearly 16-year-old dog Patty is still alive. But sadly, her sphincter control has passed away. So I sleep on the couch and wake up throughout the night making sure she gets outside, just in case. She’s normally up and pacing the backyard between 2 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. and again at about 5 a.m. I’m right there with her. But this is also why my posting times are all over the place. I should just write while I’m in the yard with her. 

Now from toilet humor to something more serious.

It’s crossed my mind many times that some might take offense to my posting of this story at a time when our world and our nation is in such turmoil. How could I write about a topic as simple as breakfast when fellow citizens are marching in the streets fighting – still – for the equal right to Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of  Happiness? The dichotomy between my world and another’s world is one that has plagued me my entire adult life. Is it okay to experience joy when so many others are simultaneously experiencing pain and sorrow? It weighs on me… heavily. And more importantly, in a time like this, what is reality? Is it possible that two people can truly see the world through such different lenses that they fail to understand the other? In that situation, is right and wrong, morality, also different? 

I’m going deep with this one, I know. But it is relevant and perhaps my first attempt at entering the current narrative. It’s also relevant because when my daughters catch a glimpse of the news or overhear my wife and I or others talking about current events, they inevitably ask the fundamental questions that adults skip over. “Dad, why are people so upset? Dad, why are those buildings on fire? Dad why are so many women marching down the street? What do I tell them? How do I tell them the truth? What is the truth? How do I give them information without inserting my own opinion? Dammit why is parenting so hard? Then I remember Norman’s advice on the topic… advice that stands true today. 

I paced behind my desk. Everyone else was at lunch so it was quiet. I walked back and forth talking to myself. Writing non-fiction for kids as an audience was great, but for the first time the topic at hand challenged my own thinking. I needed guidance. So I called Norman. 

“Hello, Norman.”

“Hi. It’s the middle of the day. Is that producer giving you a hard time again?” 

“No. I don’t need that stress on top of this.” 

“On top of what?”

“I’m working on an episode about the Iraq War.” 

“Current affairs. Interesting.” 

“It is,” I said and sat in my chair and looked at the computer screen, “I’m really enjoying it. But this one scene, well, I’m not sure how to handle it. These army guys are rolling through Baghdad and they’re talking to the camera, smoking, and joking. A guy in the turret points to a large beige building and says ‘That’s where Bin Laden and Saddam made their plans and hung out together.’ He actually says that!” 

Norman laughed. 

“What do I do? I’m serious. This show is for kids. I have a responsibility to get it right and I want this scene in the show. But it should be accurate?” 

“What’s inaccurate?”

“Bin Laden and Saddam didn’t work together. Everyone knows that.”

“Do they? You think everyone knows that?”

“Yeah, I mean – What are you getting at?”

“When the war first started, what did people think?” 

“People thought a lot of things. A lot of it turned out to be wrong.”

“But what’s your job here? This is about teaching history. History isn’t just the chronology of events. Teaching, writing, is also about capturing the different views, mindsets, and lenses everyone had during those events. After 9/11 our mindset forever changed.  So I’ll ask again, what’s your job here? Most important does it make sense to cut that line?”

I sighed. “No. I should keep the line and the scene. Kids should understand that in life people believe different things. There were so many perspectives.”

“Exactly. Sometimes it’s more important for us to capture an aspect of reality than it is to just write “facts” as they occurred in order. Facts are subject to change, especially in war. And when facts change every perspective is impacted – the soldiers, the politicians, the families, all of them.”

“It is shit,” I said.

“Worse. It’s war.” 

“At some point today, I’ll walk on the beach and at the same time an American soldier will be killed in Iraq,” I said. 

“Yes, and someone somewhere else will die of starvation or thirst. It’s a wicked world, Matt.” 

“So how do I filter this for the kids? Should I? They should know what war is? I should try to make it as real as possible for them.”

“You just answered your own question. And it seems like you’re approaching that zone and I should let you write.” 

“Thanks, Norman,” I said. 

“Always willing to lend an ear.”

We hung up and a I spent the next few hours rewriting the show, I pulled in different senses of reality and throwing my own opinion in the shredder. Norman’s advice carried through when I spent an entire month writing about the civil war and then again writing about the civil rights movement. 

How can I write about some so simple as having breakfast at The Cottage at a time like this? Norman and I never talked about our own voting records. We never argued about right and wrong. While originally writing this I had found this snippet:

Mr. Wolfson often stated that even the worst accused criminal is as entitled to competent public relations counsel as he or she is to legal counsel. As a result, almost as a dare, he was invited to represent a labor leader who had been indicted on more than 40 criminal accounts. After accepting the challenge, he failed to gain one inch of print or one second of airtime for his client’s side of the story. He always stood by his conviction and was eager to try again.

It’s all come together for me. As a writer, Norman had provided advice on how to capture the many points of view involved in a single event. As a person, Norman had approached life in the same way. We sat at our table, ate our eggs, drank our coffees, listened to one another, and absorbed one another’s perspectives. We learned to understand one another. Agree and disagree. It didn’t matter. We became good friends. 

So how can I write about something so simple as breakfast? Maybe breakfast is just what we need. 

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