Friday, November 13, 2009

Usual Suspects

Every so often I assemble an e-mail list to rally a group of friends and neighbors to some community cause.

Not surprisingly, the names of the same folks end up on the list. I’ve come to think of them as the “usual suspects.” The term, of course, comes from the great film “Casablanca.”

During a recent e-mustering, I realized that the acronym for “usual suspects” is the pronoun “us.”

I must have been in a free association mood because the “usual suspects/us” connection immediately triggered another: Pogo’s famous, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

That momentarily put the brakes on my free association.

Usual suspects (“us”) as enemies? I didn’t want to my list of would-be volunteers to think of themselves as enemies.

Or did I?

On this occasion I happened to be calling on them to devote an hour on a Saturday morning to cleaning up litter. I was inviting them to become enemies — enemies of litter.

My musing had turned the words on their heads. “Suspects” (those we suspect will help) and “enemies” (those who are enemies of a things objectionable — poverty, crime, injustice, litter).

How close a meaning is to its opposite. Perhaps that is why we’ve been taught to love our enemies or to learn that knowing is not knowing.

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