A note from last weekend:
I opened the office door earlier this week, and discovered a cat stalking a tiny baby bunny.
Now, I don't start out liking cats, but this situation didn't please me at all. It was going to be a kill for fun, not for food. I know where the cat lives, and it gets plenty of food at home. The bunny probably weighed less than a single can of cat food.
So I gave chase. And the cat wasn't happy about it. It wanted to kill the bunny, and the bunny was small and slow and squeaked a tiny baby-bunny shriek of fear. The cat kept chasing the bunny, and I kept chasing the cat -- until finally, I got the bunny and the cat separated by a stretch of chain-link fence on someone else's property.
By that time, I had to call off the chase -- I wasn't about to go trespassing over this. But I also wasn't just going to stand by while the cat killed just for fun. Not on my watch.
There's nothing heroic about saving a baby bunny from a housecat. But it *was* the right thing to do.
Like no other time in my memory, it seems like this is a time when an unusual number of situations are testing what it takes to get any of us to say "Not on my watch". The horrible killings of two men on a Portland train last Friday stand out as a particularly relevant example.
What the two victims did was, by the account of the witnesses, both heroic and simple: They said "not on my watch". And it cost them their lives.
It shouldn't cost anyone their life to say "not on my watch" when they stand between good and evil. The two men should be honored far and wide for having done the right thing.
The incident should also challenge the rest of us: How often do we practice standing up for what's right? Not punching a reporter, not sharing someone's propaganda on Facebook, not screaming at another driver at a stoplight. Instead, doing something that requires some form of self-sacrifice in order to uphold something good.
Human beings need practice in not only choosing the right thing to do, but in taking a risk in order to stand up for it, too. It's a skill, in a lot of ways like any other. If I want to be prepared to act in case someone goes into cardiac arrest, I need to get training in CPR. And if it's been a long time since I last got trained, I should probably go back and renew my certification. It's not there by instinct; someone who's never been trained won't magically get the skill just because they hope for it. And not everyone who's been trained in it will know what to do when the moment arrives -- I've been around in two instances when CPR was required, and in both cases, I saw perfectly capable adults freeze and forget how to do the simplest tasks (I had to tell one person how to dial 9-1-1). I'm glad to see that CPR training is mandatory for high-school graduation in Iowa, because a whole lot of people are going to forget how to do it, and a whole lot might freeze up in the moment -- so the more people who are trained, the better.
So it is with taking a risk to stand up, risk something, and say "not on my watch". Some people will forget, some will freeze up. Others will lack the basic courage. So it's up to all of us to train ourselves to do it, and to practice it, and to model that behavior for the young people around us. This nation is only going to keep going if we deliberately pass along American values to the next generation.
I didn't risk much in chasing the cat in order to save the baby bunny. Maybe a scratch, but hardly more than that. But it was the best practice I could get in the moment, so I did it.
I hope none of us ever have to face the kind of situation that happened in Portland. But I hope that enough of us are practicing on the little things -- and teaching our young -- that we have the backbone and the courage of character to say, when necessary, "Not on my watch".