Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11/11

It's one minute past midnight--officially 9/11.

The BBC has been broadcasting shows all week leading up to today, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I'm sure it's the same in America, and possibly around the rest of the world. It seems as if it happened so long ago in some fuzzy past that I think I can barely remember it until I watch the footage and remember in meticulous detail exactly where I was and how I spent that day and then I feel as if it happened yesterday. Frankly, I was startled to feel the same tightness in my chest, the same tears running down my face, the same sense of disbelief and utter devastation that I felt ten years ago. I didn't realize how much those events affected me, how much they still affect me. As we watched a rebroadcast of the footage shot by a French film crew who happened to be in a New York fire station filming a documentary on that day, I couldn't stop myself from sobbing. One of the firemen who was interviewed said this: "I didn't know evil could be so evil." I don't think any of us did.

The world changed that day. My world changed that day. On September 10, 2001 I believed that American was invulnerable, unstoppable, and completely safe. I thought of the USA as the big kid on the world block, the one no one could bully, the one no one could beat. On September 11, 2001, all my illusions were shattered. I felt vulnerable and so did my country. I felt uncertain and unsure of myself and I felt the same for my country. I felt bewildered by how suddenly the rules had changed and how unprepared we were to engage in a war with this type of enemy, an enemy whose true depth of evil was only glimpsed in the bombing of the USS Cole, an enemy perceived as an anomaly, an aberration, an irritating and harmful bug that could easily be squashed by our mighty boot.

But this enemy didn't disappear and it wasn't just hiding in the shadows of some sheltered caves in a wind-swept, arid, backward country. It was here, on our soil. It was using our resources against us. It was killing indiscriminately. Now we understand that this enemy is made up of individuals willing to die for their cause, willing to kill anyone for their cause, willing to sacrifice anything for their cause, with no regard to the sanctity of human life. There seems to be no end to the masses of faceless drones lining up for the privilege of blowing themselves up to murder. And they don't care who they take with them. Two months ago I read about a little eight year old girl who was tricked into carrying a bomb, promised she wouldn't be hurt and then blown up by the animals who lied to her. My youngest daughter is eight. How do you fight an enemy so completely devoid of any trace of humanity?

After seeing the first of several of these shows, I felt compelled to reread an article written in the Miami Herald by Leonard Pitts, Jr. called "We'll Go Forward From This Moment." It brought tears to my eyes and as strong a sense of patriotism as it did when I first read it on 12 Sept. I searched for and found the slideshow that someone put together using his words and the images are still as powerful.

Mr Pitts' words seem prophetic now, ten years later. He wrote, "...What is it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that's the case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange: You don't know my people. You don't know what we're capable of. You don't know what you just started. But you're about to learn."

When I see the footage of 9/11 I have no doubt why we went to war. Our son asked me if I thought we would have invaded Iraq if 9/11 hadn't happened and I said no. I feel certain we wouldn't have. I think we went to war because we needed to do something. We needed to prove we were still the big kid on the block. We needed to assuage our desperate fear the we were no longer in control and could no longer protect our people. After seeing the devastation again--physical and emotional--that America suffered, I understand the compulsion to fight even more.

In many ways I wish we hadn't gone to war, but I understand at least emotionally, why we did. Tonight I watched another show, one about Flight 93. At the end, a young cadet said he wanted to join the military because he wanted to punish those who took away all that we lost. I understand him too. But I don't know that fighting is the answer. Then again, I have no idea what the answer is.

The world is different. It doesn't feel as stable and unshakable as it used to. But after reliving the horror of 9/11, I have decided to keep foremost in my mind and heart the other side of 9/11: the images of people reaching out, of strangers comforting each other and bonding through common pain. I want to remember the stories of those who experienced chasms of grief but found the strength to rebuild their lives. I want to honor the bravery and courage of those who sacrificed their own lives to save strangers.

It has been said that what we focus on expands. I happen to believe that. In this strange new world of almost daily pointless death, we have to have hope. We have to believe that good will overcome evil. We have to believe that love is still more powerful than hate. And we have to act as if we believe it. What we focus on expands. Maybe that's the only answer I need.