It’s hard to find words for latest Schiavo outrage


My mother did not swear. I do not think that in all her life I ever heard her say “son of a bitch” or “bastard.” She did, however, have good English words which were equivalent to those in intensity and moral condemnation, and the ones I remember best were “vile” and “revolting” and “filthy” and “atrocious” and “odious” and “despicable” and “contemptible” and “disgusting.”

It is those words that came into mind when I heard on the radio and then read in the newspaper that Jeb Bush, the first brother, governor of Florida, had — bare hours after the autopsy of Terri Schiavo had confirmed how utterly hopeless had been her medical circumstances — “requested” a local prosecutor to investigate how many minutes, precisely, had elapsed between her collapse in the early hours of Feb. 25, 1990, and the telephone call to 911 made by her husband, Michael.

This is such vile and dogged Javert politics that not even my mother would have had a word for it. In parlay with big brother’s last-minute flight from Texas to Washington, D.C., some months ago to sign a reckless, pandering, unconstitutional do-not-deplug bill, it simply increases the ghoulish pseudo-religious capering over the then living, now dead corpse of the tragic young Mrs. Schiavo.

How many minutes, indeed. Have you ever been privy to a disaster, a close call, involving a wife, husband, child, mother, father, close companion of one kind or another? I have. Yes, I have at least once called 911. How many minutes elapsed? I had other things to think about. What to do? Keep calm. Keep calm. Try this. Try that. No, better go to the phone. Foolish? So what. Pick it up. Dial. “Hello, this is an emergency…”

I was of two minds — no, 20 minds, 50 minds — about pulling that tube out of Terri Schiavo, and always will be. That’s irrelevant to this latest abominable cynical ploy by the governor of Florida. “Abominable,” another word my mother would have come up with.

In search of some moral relief, I last night picked up and opened at random one of the most cleansing books of the past several generations, J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” Here is what I turned to. Holden Caulfield, to kill a couple of hours, has sat through a stage show and a dumb movie at Radio City Music Hall:

“The part that got me was, there was a lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture. The phonier it got, the more she cried. You’d have thought she did it because she was kindhearted as hell, but I was sitting right next to her, and she wasn’t. She had this little kid with her that was bored as hell and had to go to the bathroom, but she wouldn’t take him. She kept telling him to sit still and behave himself. She was about as kindhearted as a goddam wolf. You take somebody that cries their goddam eyes out, and nine times out of ten, they’re mean bastards at heart. I’m not kidding.”

And I’m not kidding in my revulsion in re Jeb Bush, not to mention George W. I can only think of a great man named Sam Irvin, senator from North Carolina, who sort of clinched the Watergate case with one line from the King James Bible: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Or of another man named Joseph Welch, who two decades earlier turned the whole lurching history of the United States around with: “Senator McCarthy, I think until this moment … I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.”

Mother, mother, rest in peace. Theresa Marie Schiavo, you too.