A message to rude D.C.: Give 'salaam' a chance
By Rich Staats
I recently returned from command as a colonel in Iraq. And, no, this is not a rant from a Veterans for Peace activist. I was proud to serve, to help the Iraqi people and to make life better for the 18,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians I was responsible for. Since 2005, I have spent more time in Iraq than in the United States. I’ve come home from overseas on more than 20 occasions during my nearly 30 years in the Army. But this time was different.
Coming home is never easy, and it can be particularly hard during the holidays. I was really hoping for a large dose of holiday spirit, more “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.” That’s not exactly what I got.
While one expects some fairly unsociable behavior in a war zone, I was more than a bit surprised to have been met with hostility here in the D.C. area. I’m not talking about an anti-military attitude; people have been gracious and appreciative in that regard. I’m talking about a general anger and hostility that ranges from extra honking on the roadways to the more common murderous, withering glances that you get when you do something apparently way out of line — such as, say, smiling at someone in a mall.
The biggest change that I have noticed, based on a nonrandom, nonscientific sample, is a perplexing refusal of help from a stranger. During the heavy December snow, I stopped when I saw someone stuck. Without exception, my offers of aid were rebuffed — sometimes in a very hostile manner.
I’m not sure whether it is acrimony over health-care reform, anger over a slower-than-desired economy or fear of the impeding Mayan apocalypse, but something is far different this year.
I learned something during my several combat tours in the Persian Gulf region. The greeting in that part of the world is a variation on “salaam” or “shalom.” We tend to translate this denotatively as “peace,” suggesting merely an absence of war. But that misses the beautiful connotation that this word has to the people in the cradle of civilization.
To them, “salaam” or “shalom” means that everything is good and in its place. It implies a general feeling of contentedness and peacefulness. This sense of a peaceful, contented spirit is captured somewhat by our old holiday greeting of “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” — a wish to look at the positive and to convey some extra regard and kindness to others.
Our homeland, this democratic beacon and land of plenty, represents so much to people all over the Earth. But something seems to have gone a little awry with how we treat one another. So this is my request to everyone in my adopted hometown: Let’s demonstrate a little more salaam.
I’m not looking to start a “pay it forward” revolution. This is something basic that we can all do.
I’m proud to serve and defend this great nation, and it has been a wild ride these past five years. But right now I’d just like some salaam and quiet .....
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