Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mournful thoughts for 9/11, seven years on

I'm writing in an airport waiting to rush off on yet another trip halfway across the country. Busy, busy, busy.

I've negotiated "security," that silly ritual of pulling off shoes, pulling out laptop -- as I write this I realize, it being 4:45 am, I forgot to pull out my quart size bag of toothpaste and hair gel. Not a peep from the screeners as my bag passed through the scanner with the forbidden items in the pocket. So much for this theatrical ritual.

Within days of 9/11, a wise friend wrote an open letter with some advice for his stunned community of progressive friends. I paraphrase from memory: Do not, whatever you do, start talking about chickens coming home to roost ... in this national atmosphere of shock, anger and grief, people won't want to hear.

Seven years on, I will say aloud that those chickens are still coming home. The terrible attacks stunned a nation drifting in blissful but culpable ignorance. Too many of us thought we could ignore the ambitions of billions of other human beings who yearn for lives of some security, for respect for their histories and unique cultures, for a decent share of global wellbeing. Their pain was not our concern as we, five percent of the world's population, grabbed 25 percent of the world's energy resources, to take one example of our disproportionate consumption.

A kindergartener would know that such a division of the toys couldn't last -- but we are mightily armed kindergarteners crashing around in the world as if the planet were our playpen.

Our rulers used our naïve anger and ignorance to lead us into one completely unjustified war based on lies. In that war, we've torn apart a country, covered ourselves in shame as torturers and murderers -- and, despite all our power, are in the process of being thrown out, though we don't acknowledge this. Meanwhile, we're mired in another failing and spreading war in the wilds of Central Asia where we can rain death from the skies, but cannot bring peace and stability on the ground and see no disengagement in prospect.

And at home, fear and vengeance have trumped attachment to Constitution and the tradition of the rule of law, not men. These emotions have assaulted the virtue that accompanies our innocence, our generous hopeful spirit. We have become hooked on adrenaline and anxiety. We accept the theater of security and allow massive spying on individuals and raids that sweep up and disappear the Muslim, brown, foreign others who we are encouraged to fear.

We are locked in a Presidential campaign in which fear and greed are using every racist, sexist tactic in the book to try to drown hope and change.
Later. Yet another airport. My flight is delayed. What else is new?

And yet, and yet...none of this post-9/11 horror show is over yet. Terrible possibilities that have not yet happened cannot be allowed to kill good possibilities that might yet triumph. Every day we live, we have the chance to make our impasse worse -- or make some tiny bit of this sad country a little better.

We can create friction that grinds away at the wall of fear and ignorance. We can try to choose for life and hope. There aren't really any other options. That can happen here.


naomi dagen bloom said...

Earlier this week, Gail Collins in NY Times op-ed did a fine job of trying to get those of us on the left to look at the glass half-full. It is a challenge. Feel especially impatient with those among young women who think political action is not about them.

Best antidote was phone conversation with son who opined that Obama was more Republican than Dem and perhaps we all needed to change parties. We ended in laughter because some times that's the only way to get through awfulness.

sfmike said...

Beautiful essay. I'm going to be writing soon about the pianist Sarah Cahill and her 18 commissioned piano works about "peace." This essay brought up a lot of what we've been talking about, particularly since she was living in Manhattan for a year during 9/11 and she had friends who had the bad taste to do what your wise friend warned against: writing to her about "chickens coming home to roost" when she was simply trying to handle the reality of disaster all around her.

Her piano project is also a stab at simply doing something positive, because it's necessary no matter what ill fates are whisking around.

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