She called to say she used to read the column I write.
I noticed she used the past tense."Until you started cheerleading the war," she explained.
I felt myself tense up. I'd gotten dozens of phone calls like that these past weeks, and perhaps 100 letters. I should be ashamed, they said. I was ignorant. I was a warmonger. Dangerous. Many showed deep anger. It got to a point where I kept expecting the next letter to say, "Support peace or I'll kill you."
So I tensed up. Then I began to get angry myself. How could anyone question the war at this time? It had proven a stunning success. There were few U.S. casualties. A brutal dictator had been beaten. Many surrendering Iraqis were denouncing Saddam Hussein, blaming him, not us.
Something in me wanted to remind her of that. A tyrant who destroyed a country and vandalized the environment has been defeated. A victimized people has been liberated. Admit it, I wanted to tell her, you were wrong.
Then, over the phone, in the background, I heard a young child say something. The caller, a mother, excused herself for a moment. When she came back on, we found we both had children the same age, just under 3. We traded baby stories. Now, instead of seeing her as an adversary, I began to listen.
She spoke of being concerned about the euphoria over the war. It's no time for euphoria, she said. She reminded me of the suffering among innocents in Iraq, how millions of children there are without decent nutrition and health care. She told me of a report by the head of UNICEF estimating that 800,000 Iraqi pregnant women are without clean water and electricity.
My response was to remind her that many suffered in Kuwait, too, and the war has ended it. As for the suffering in Iraq, I said, it was caused by Saddam, not us: He began this conflict, he could have stopped it.
Then we realized we were beginning a circular debate - did the war increase suffering or limit it? We took opposite sides on that, but it occurred to me that we shared something: the common goal of stopping suffering.
I told her this - that I, like her, hate violence but have felt violence alone could stop the suffering Sad-dam started. She accepted that but added it's why she is pained at the current euphoria that ignores how the suffering in the gulf goes on.
Her words got me thinking. This may well be a time of celebration - celebration of war's quick end - but it's not a time for euphoria. We're not the kind of country that gloats over conquest. The woman caller helped remind me of that. In the last few days, someone else reminded me of it even more powerfully: our soldiers.
I think now of all those who have been especially gentle with Iraqi prisoners. "I feel sorry for these people," one said. "They've been through a lot." I think of the soldier who sadly listened to the distant pounding of allied bombs. "God help them," he said. "They've got kids and families at home, too, like us."
I think of the squad of soldiers filmed burying Iraqi casualties. The squad prayed for them.
Many religions teach this - that we weep not just for our own dead but for the enemy we are forced to kill.
A time for euphoria? For gloating?
I remember the words of Winston Churchill: "In battle, defiance. In victory, magnamity."
I also remember the words of Edward Kennedy, eulogizing his brother Robert, asking that he be remembered for one sentiment above almost all others: "He saw suffering, and tried to heal it."
I like to think that at our best, that is America. I like to think it is why our soldiers were sent to the Persian Gulf in the first place: We saw suffering there and went to heal it.
May we remember, as the woman caller helped me remember, that there is still suffering there that needs to be healed. As Americans, even Americans who will long disagree over this war, that was and is our common goal.