Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Later, and Ahead By A Century

With illusions of someday casting a golden light,
No dress rehearsal, this is our life.
That's when the hornet stung me and I had a feverish dream;
With revenge and doubt tonight we smoke them out...
The Tragically Hip, "Ahead By A Century"

I've written about September 11th so many times.  Nothing I've produced, no matter how graceful in its simplicity or florid of language, can top Sarah Bunting's piece For Thou Art With Us.  

I'm 28 now.  I'm a graduate student, far from politics.  I'm far away from DC, where my friends comment on my energy when I return.  When I was 18 I didn't know anything, but I thought I knew it all.  I still don't know it all, but now I'm aware of it.  I regret that it wasn't simply the brilliance of Aristotle that made me understand how little I knew.  It's a little bit like learning that the stove is hot; someone can tell you it's hot, but you'll remember it forever once the shiny, tight burns have healed and only the scars remain, fading through time as you grow older and wiser.  September 11th was what taught me how little I knew and how little I would be able to know before I shuffled off this mortal coil.  There are people and there are acts that I will never understand. 

In America, we are deeply attached to our sense of fairness.  Even though we know life isn't fair, we appeal to it so frequently.  We're driven to mention it even as we acknowledge that fairness isn't the point.  There is very little that is less fair than what happened on September 11th.  People were simply going to work, on a beautiful day, when our world changed.  Over the course of the past ten years I have had nightmares about being at work - at jobs nowhere near Washington or New York or Pennsylvania, jobs that have nothing to do with what I was doing in 2001 - and being engulfed in flames, struck by what sounds like monsters but I know are aircraft, watching my friends burn by my side.  The worst part is that I don't wake up screaming or crying.  I sleep through these dreams, waking up exhausted and paranoid.  I don't claim to know what every American feels, but I think some variation of this is what has been happening to everyone over the past ten years.  This immense, sudden, violent unfairness has haunted us, because it removed our ability to ever again appeal to fairness or to pretend we are in some what guaranteed it by virtue of our government and our society.  Nothing is the same, but everything looks like it is.

This all-consuming fear that chases us into our dreams and into the dark corners and bright daylight of our lives is not to be minimized.  However, giving into it is to give it power, and to turn our fear into legitimate concern.  In the past ten years, we have abandoned so many civil rights in the name of safety.  We have abandoned so much of the fabric of America for the sake of protecting against what might happen.  We have continued two wars, one of which was invalid from the start and the other of which will never be won in any meaningful sense beyond what was accomplished a few short months ago with the death of Osama bin Laden.  We must celebrate this dark anniversary with a revival of our courage.  This is no small task.

It takes courage to reject intrusive searches and accept risk back into our lives.

It takes courage to stand up to a police state and risk bodily harm.

It takes courage to fight against those who would take our rights for their own gain.

It takes courage and it takes strength to reverse these ten years of fearful relinquishment of what makes us who we are.  I am afraid.  I know many others are.  I know many of us feel like we cannot possibly fight the forces who have risen to power while we were hiding under the blankets and wishing for a new day - those of immense power and of immense fortune, who seem to control every aspect of our lives.  But my friends - my fellow Americans - we have to try.  We have to try, and we have to be brave.  We have to be involved not just with national politics but with our communities.  We have to reach down to those of us most bereft of power and hope and help them up, so that they too can join us and so that we all can emerge free from this crushing fear.  We have to offer up the best of our communities as candidates - business people and parents and the unemployed and the students - the people who want to fight for us, and to return us to our best selves.

The people who have perpetuated this fearful existence seem bigger than life.  Some of them have weapons, some of them have militaries.  Some of them employ us, hold sway over our mortgages and leases and bank accounts.  But they, too, are people.  Despite their greatest hopes, we still have the power of our Constitution...and we still have the power of numbers.  We, too, sing America - and we must, ever more so on this day, ten years after the world fell in.

1 comment:

  1. I just read her piece and this is weird to say but only two things about 9/11 have ever actually moved me and it was this and when Jon Stewart cried. I don't think I can really feel anything about it otherwise.