I am cautious by nature; I like to dwell before responding. It keeps my foot out of my mouth, though there are times when I wait too long, and events slip away into passivity. Like that 6-something Tuesday morning phone call last year telling me to turn on my television. I stood there drinking coffee and watched the second plane fly live into the World Trade Center while I got dressed, then I went to work, numb inside. I've watched wars before on television, but the images were always as smart as the bombs. There were no people jumping out of windows; that sort of thing was far too disturbing for general consumption.
But this was different. It took place in my hometown, just blocks from where I'd worked for years. I was racked with conflicting emotions, trying to find a rationale to make the whole thing fit, but nothing worked. I had to fight to hold on to my politics-to the could-haves and should-haves of my idealism and pacifism. Not once did I cry or try to associate with any of the victims; if I had, it would have opened a floodgate of tears, for I knew in my heart that this was not an isolated incident in a world gone mad, just more personal.
It's been a week now since the anniversary. As it neared, I tried as hard as I could to maintain my distance, but the fist in the pit of my stomach refused to go away. I finally realized that I would have to do something. Not dwell on it or rail against it, but respond. And so last Wednesday I got up early and listened to Bach cantatas, dressed slowly and went to work like any other day.
When I came home, I did not turn on the television to watch those images play over and over again between commercials and station breaks, nor hear the same talking heads spew their clichéd pearls of wisdom about our changing world. Instead, I read poetry with the faint hope that perhaps there is something higher out there, something beyond politics and the ways of the world, for they both disappoint me. I am ashamed of my humanity and the hypocrisy of its never-ending contradictions, ashamed of what we do to one another in the name of a truth that just doesn't exist.
The older I get, the more difficult it is to hold on to illusions. My resolve is to disengage from the whole sordid mess. There is no straightening out the system from within-the system is corrupt and will remain so for as long as we play the same tired old games we've been acting out since Cain killed Abel. History speaks for itself. Intellectually we've come a long way, but emotionally we're still living in a dark cave, frightened of what lies just outside the entrance.
These days I feel like a refugee from a gospel song, weary of this world while longing for the next. It takes a huge amount of effort just to get up out of bed in the morning, let alone struggle for the right to live my life the way I choose to live it-who needs the rest of the bullshit?
I am tired of my ignorance and cruelty, my narrow-mindedness and fear. I am also tired of people who think that these things are common to one race or one culture. It is our frailty that makes us human, not our nationality. As John Donne so aptly put it, “Each man's joy is my joy / Each man's sorrow is my own.” Isn't it time to wake up and realize the true implications of that statement?
The time has come to put an end to waving flags and marching bands, unless they're at a football game. The same with weapons of mass destruction, regardless of who possesses them. They were all built with the same ultimate purpose in mind. While we're at it, maybe we can take all the Bushes and the Blairs, the bin Ladens and Husseins, the Arafats and Sharons, and lock them all up in the same room until they learn how to work out their differences amongst themselves without killing us all.
Sept. 11 was a tragic day for all of us-victims and survivors alike. I doubt that any of us will ever forget it. The events of that day are already being woven deep into the fabric of the American myth and will no doubt grow in stature as time goes by. But who among us will feel the same pain and suffering when the bombs start dropping over Iraq or when the next wave of suicide bombers start striking in Israel? Are we really democratic enough to open ourselves up to that reality, or will we just continue to deny our own complicity in events that shape the world and make it what it is today?
“If not now,” as Primo Levi asked, “when?”