Hello. I am an Earth Ball, also known as a cage ball. I am a large inflatable ball in a junior-high-school locker room outside of Baltimore. When it rains, kids stay inside and play with me.
It has not been raining much lately. The school year is ending soon. Today is a sad day. Those first three sentences are not necessarily connected, except by proximity. Soon enough, I’ll explain my reasons, which have to do with the radio and television host Sean Hannity. First, though, I want to start with something a little brighter. Someone left a Wiffle ball in the locker room.
His name is Geronimo. It’s not his real name but it’s the name he gives, because of a joke he knows. He told the joke to me and to Albert, who is a badminton racket. “It was a movie, see,” Geronimo said. He says “see” all the time and the word comes through with a whistle because of the Wiffle slots on his sides. “There was a guy, see, and he was jumping out of a plane, see. And he yelled ‘Geronimooooo!’ just before he jumped, see. Then there was a second guy, see, and he did the same. And then an Indian appeared at the door of the plane, in full headdress, see, and when he jumped, he yelled ‘Meeeeee!’”
I knew that Geronimo was the name of a famous Indian, so I laughed. Albert, who came up through the private-school system in Sri Lanka and was left here by an exchange student, did not, and though he laughed, too, his laughter was learned rather than felt. “I was amused but only in the technical sense,” he said. “I noticed the mirth on your faces and followed suit.” Unfamiliarity with the concept left him unable to respond appropriately.
Geronimo was disappointed because he got only one real laugh from two real listeners, so he tried again.
“Here’s another joke,” he said. “There was this man, see, and he was driving, and he saw a sign that said ‘Talking Dog for Sale: $10.’ He pulled over and knocked on the door. A man answered, see, and when the first man asked about the talking dog the second man pointed to the back yard. ‘Out there,’ he said. The man went into the yard, where he saw a dog resting beneath a tree. ‘I feel silly doing this,’ he said, ‘but hello.’ The dog said hello back. The man was shocked. ‘Why do you look so surprised?’ the dog said. ‘I can talk. Always been able to. I started out as the pet of a guy who worked in counterespionage, and he would leave me with friends who didn’t have any qualms about talking around a dog, and then I would tell the guy what they were saying. At one point I was offered a position in the White House, and there was even some talk about sending me to Mars. But I didn’t like the lifestyle. My current owner got me around five years ago, and I love sitting out here and watching the clouds. I’m learning a little Spanish.’ The man was flabbergasted, see. He went back inside to find the dog’s owner, see. ‘That dog is incredible,’ he said. ‘He can actually talk.’ The owner nodded. ’He’s yours if you want him,’ he said. ‘Well,’ the man said, ‘I have one question: why is he only ten dollars?’ The owner scratched his head, see. ‘Sure, he can talk,’ he said, ‘but what a liar.’”
This joke got a laugh from both Albert and myself. Albert knew what a dog was. Geronimo laughed too, a high-pitched whistle-laugh.
This week, these moments of levity have been rare. On Sunday, a man named George Tiller had been murdered. George Tiller was a doctor who performed abortions. Years ago, when I first heard about abortions, I did not know what they were, and so I did not know how to feel about them. Unfamiliarity with the concept left me unable to respond appropriately. Then I learned that abortions are surgeries that end pregnancies. Imagine a small ball attached to a hose. A large ball is nearby, overseeing the process. At some point, the small ball is inflated to a satisfactory point − what we call the Size of Independence, or SOI − and it can be removed from the hose. But what if the large ball overseeing the process notices that the small ball has a leak that cannot be repaired, or another fatal structural flaw? He may desire that the small ball not be inflated to SOI so that it does not embark upon an impossibly painful existence. For that matter, a large ball may decide that he cannot care for a small ball, and may deflate him before he can exist. Among balls, we accept this as a possibly wrong but necessary option. Among humans, this can also happen, but because small humans are inside large humans rather than next to them, doctors must go inside large humans and end the process of human inflation. This is a highly controversial issue among humans. Some feel it is a form of murder. Others feel it is an acceptable response to medical or economic fact. Most humans have an opinion that falls between these two extremes.
George Tiller was an expert at ending human inflation in the months just before a human small ball’s SOI. He performed many of these procedures at his clinic in Kansas. People who disagreed with him tried to do him harm. He had been shot once before, fifteen years ago, and was threatened often. Then, on Sunday, while he was at church, a man who believed that George Tiller’s human-inflation-ending procedures were a form of murder walked up to George Tiller and deflated him with a gun. I heard about it on the news on Sunday evening, when Coach Parker came by to do some paperwork. Geronimo was telling jokes (“the volleyball said a watermelon was a nice place to visit but he wouldn’t want to live there, see”), but when we heard about Tiller, a hush came over the room. Here was a man who was at the center of a controversy regarding the sanctity of life. Some believed he was not respectful of human life. So what was the solution? To murder him? “That seems wrong, see,” Geronimo said. “I heard a joke once about an abortion in the two-hundredth trimester but that seems wrong, too, see.” Albert noticed our hurt and confusion and followed suit.
Overnight, as I thought about it, I began to get excited. I was excited only in the technical sense: it wasn’t pleasure I was feeling, but agitation, and it came from trying to figure out what Sean Hannity would say about the murder of George Tiller. Sean Hannity has long been an opponent of deflation because of his conservative ideals and Catholic faith. However, he has supported candidates like Rudy Giuliani who are not as strong in their opposition to deflation. So how would he discuss the issue? He would certainly condemn the murderer and express his sympathy for the family, though I couldn’t imagine past that.
That next day, a Monday, I waited anxiously for Coach Parker to turn on the radio. I inflated with expectation, even more so because Coach Parker was late: a minute late, two minutes, three. I passed the time by talking to Geronimo and Albert, and they got excited, too. Geronimo, in particular, seemed even more intensely engaged than I was. “I can’t wait, see,” he said.
When Coach Parker finally arrived and turned on the radio, Sean Hannity was talking about Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court. That was important, but it didn’t seem as important as the fact that a man at the center of one of the nation’s most contentious moral dilemmas had been murdered. I figured he’d get to it in a second. But then he started talking about how Barack Obama went on a date in New York City the same weekend that General Motors was declaring bankruptcy. Then he talked about Tim Geithner’s trip to China, then allegations that the Justice Department allowed voter intimidation by Black Panthers. Three hours passed without a mention of George Tiller. At one point, the New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie, a guest on the show, declared himself proudly pro-life, but not a word was said about Tiller, freshly dead.
With less than ten minutes left, a woman named Dorothy called from Wichita. It was the second Kansas call of the day. “I know Wichita obviously has been following the story of this Dr. Tiller,” Sean Hannity said. “You notice how they’re trying to blame conservatives for it?” Sean Hannity then detailed the late-term abortion procedure — “Shouldn’t he also detail the procedure of being shot to death, see?” Geronimo said – after which he proceeded to cast doubt on the motive for the shooting, as if George Tiller might have been shot for some reason other than his stance on abortion. Dorothy persisted. “Last I checked,” she said, “abortion is legal and we can’t just go around shooting people we disagree with.”
“I know people in the life community and I have spoken at pro-life events,” Sean Hannity said. “I don’t know anybody who supports violence in the pro-life community. I just don’t.”
Geronimo laughed bitterly. “Not even one?” he said. A minute later, Sean Hannity was doing a commercial for Ruth’s Chris Steak House. In just over five minutes, the George Tiller issue had been resolved to his satisfaction, without a single word of sympathy for George Tiller or his family.
Not one word.
I have to say that separately and repeatedly so that I understand how little I understand it.
Not one word.
I know that Sean Hannity feels passionately about life, because he has said so, over and over again. I know that he affects something he likes to call “intellectual honesty,” and that he complains constantly that there is a double standard in today’s world. “If a white man said what Sonia Sotomayor said,” he said, “he’d be called a racist.” So is there a double standard where double standards are concerned? If a man who was located on the far right side of the political spectrum, like Dr. James Dobson, was gunned down in church, and a national radio show on the left side of the political spectrum did not even mention the murder for one hundred seventy of its one hundred eighty minutes, would that be fair? Would it even be human? Sean Hannity didn’t answer those questions. Maybe he will tomorrow, or the day after, but today he just kept talking about General Motors and Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor and the Black Panthers and the housing market in New Jersey and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Sure, he can talk, but what a liar.