Yesterday afternoon on a crowded Connecticut Avenue roundabout in our nation’s capital, Washington, D. C., a man stood holding a sign. The sign read “Bring our Troops Home” on one side and “End the War” on the other. He was not simply holding the sign, but slowly twirling it back and forth so both messages came across. I would guess his age was late 50s or early 60s and he was well-dressed, a man who would fit comfortably on Wall Street. He was not your stereotypical t-shirt labeled liberal icon, so who was he and why was he standing there? I will never know. My 30 seconds of peripheral vision, waiting for the traffic to clear, allowed only a glance. But today when I close my eyes I see him standing there.

Perhaps he was so many different possible men. He could be a father, whose son is among the 3,882 confirmed deaths of U.S. military in Iraq. Surely among the grieving fathers and mothers are many who are angry enough to spend a Sunday afternoon protesting a war that surges on one death at a time, as though success can be measured in small numbers. Perhaps he is a Quaker, who will sit solemnly this morning in meeting trying to overcome the clamor of war talk with silent prayer? Or a veteran of the Vietnam War, another time when blood paid for the political rhetoric of politicians too preoccupied with their own glory to fight themselves? Maybe he was crazy, certified under some psychiatric phobia chart as a man unwilling to deal with reality? I will never know. But does it really matter why if I can understand that there are good reasons for standing out in the cold and making such a statement?

What can one man do? He can grieve. What can one sign do? It can haunt the memory of those few passers by who read beyond the slogan to the pain. The pain of this war is like the sorrow created in any other. Patriotic rhetoric and homeland security soundbites aside, some men and women die because others are too quick to send them onto a battlefield. The daily deaths in Iraq, where the lack of security has created a climate of desperation fueling corruption and thuggery, may not be surging, but neither are they stopping. One man holding a sign can never bring the madness to a halt. Grief will continue to visit father and mothers, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, children and friends. This is true not only for American families, but for Iraq, where an entire generation is being martyred. Those who escape the bullets or the knife will bear the scars for a lifetime.

This one man, who may be out holding his sign aloft again as I write this post, is our conscience. We certainly need a reminder, given the recent youtubed bluster and banter of the men and one woman who would be president. Governor and Reverend Huckabee suggests we save the Middle East in Chuck Norris style. I have no taste for such knucklehead sandwich diplomacy. I will take the one man with a sign and a message not paid for by a fistful of dollars.

Daniel Martin Varisco