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FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2021 file photo, people in favor of and against a mask mandate for Cobb County schools gather and protest ahead of the school board meeting in Marietta, Ga. Across the country, anti-vaccine and anti-mask demonstrations are taking scary and violent turns, and educators, medical professionals and public figures have been stunned at the level at which they have been vilified for even stating their opinion. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

The man in line at the feed store was buying three tubes of ivermectin, a horse dewormer.

Said he'd seen videos of a Texas doctor saying it cures COVID-19, even in the elderly.

Said he'd take it himself.

He'd already asked for three tubes from behind the counter. Then, just before paying, he changed his mind.

How many you got back there?

Three more.

Give it all to me, he said.

He bought out the store of ivermectin.

I watched this all unfold, 5 or 6 feet away. Never said a word. At least, not out loud.

But in my mind?

In my mind, I went to war.

***

The war on terror was our nation's longest war.

According to Brown University's Costs of War research, more than 929,000 people have died from post-9/11 violence.

More than 387,000 civilians have died.

It will cost the U.S. an estimated $8 trillion.

An estimated 38 million people have been displaced or become refugees.

According to historians, our nation has used its military — wars, occupations, coups, battles, affairs, invasions, interventions — almost every year of our existence. It seems we are always going to war, one way or another.

***

There in the feed store, I launched an artillery strike of assumptions, judgment and scorn. Within seconds, my mind had created stories and back stories about this man, even though I did not know him and never would. He was white, middle-aged and buying a horse dewormer to treat COVID-19. That was all my mind needed to unleash a barrage of internal accusations and curses.

I could have said something helpful or kind, but I didn't. I walled up in silence.

Could have prayed for his well-being. Could have gently suggested a vaccine. Nope. The walls held.

Is this not war?

Is this not the core of war?

I want him to be different. I want him to stop doing what he's doing. It makes me uncomfortable. I feel threatened.

Is that not the same original agenda as any foreign policy attempting to bomb, invade or attack a nation into submission?

"War and peace start in the heart of individuals," writes Buddhist monastic Pema Chodron.

I used to argue consistently about war and the end of war. Anti-war protests. The exorbitant military budget. I thought the problem was out there: government policy, national narrative, so on.

Let me be clear: War is incalculably destructive. Our world can outlaw it. Our nation can exist without a military budget totaling more than the combined budgets of the next 11 nations.

Yet the problem isn't ... out there.

Imagine if, at the end of each day, we read a print-out of all our thoughts. How many would be aggressive? Judgmental, aversive and critical? How many mental airstrikes do we launch each day?

Those people. Libtards. Spreadnecks. Those people. Kamala Harris. Ron DeSantis. Those people. Muslims. Mexicans. Asians. Those people.

"We can talk about ending war, and we can march for ending war, we can do everything in our power, but war is never going to end as long as our hearts are hardened against each other," Chodron writes.

I thought by going to internal mental war, I could keep myself safe. Instead, all I do is cause more suffering.

It does not have to be this way.

When I look closely, I see my feed store "enemy-neighbor" — a phrase King used — in a different light.

He wants to be alive and healthy, just like me.

He is scared — six tubes, not three — just like me.

Is it entirely possible that, given a few instrumental changes in circumstance and experience, that I could be him? And he me?

Of course.

Yes, I am angry that we have cultivated a national landscape that encourages the belief that a horse dewormer is safer than an FDA-approved vaccine. I feel such grief, fury even, at this.

I am not saying we should strive for Disney-minds of nice, smiley thoughts.

Nor am I saying we can just think Osama Bin Laden or COVID-19 away.

Yes, this man could theoretically lead to my sickness and death. Or yours.

But when is that not true? Are we not always in terrible, intimate, vulnerable proximity with one another? Are we not always at the mercy of our neighbors?

There is enough war going around.

I don't want to add to it.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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