War is Peace - Freedom is Slavery - Ignorance is Strength

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Everything Changed, Yet Everything is Still the Same

Like everyone on September 11, I watched the endless replays of the second plane hitting the tower in dumfounded shock. Even after I had long lost count of the number of times that clip was repeated, I still couldn't believe it, and the empty, numb sensation of bewildered horror that had enveloped when I first saw the attack refused to abate.

Later that evening I went to pick up my sister from work. While I was waiting for her to get off, I chatted with a girl who was smoking in the parking lot. She told me that her father had called her first thing that morning to make sure she was safe. For him, in rural Oregon, his daughter living in the metropolis of Portland put her at the epicenter of danger, and he was so concerned that he had begged her to come home.

Trying to turn to lighter subject matter, our conversation devolved into mundane chit chat. The girl mentioned that she was going to PSU, so I asked her what she was majoring in.

"Islamic terrorism," she told me. Neither of us laughed.

Later that day I gathered around a TV with my sister and a mutual friend. As we watched coverage of the aftermath, my friend, a die-hard Democrat, said that he was kind of glad that Bush was President, because he wasn't sure if Gore would have been able to respond to the attacks with the same kind of force and purpose that Bush was displaying. He has denied speaking those words ever since.

A few weeks after the attacks, I was driving in Tigard when I saw a homemade sign in the back of a pickup that threw me into a vicious rage.

I don't remember what it said anymore, but I do remember that it had the word "towel head" on it.

"Fuck you, you racist mother fucker!" I screamed, leaning out the window and bellowing as hard as I could. The driver of the pickup looked about 55 and he seemed from his expression to be genuinely perplexed by my outburst. His equally aged wife glanced back hesitantly, then turned quickly back forward as the light switched green and they pulled away from me.

That incident tore at me for a long time. I felt guilty for viciously assaulting a kindly elderly couple, but on the other hand I was consumed with genuine hatred and disgust for people who could be so callous, so ignorant, so indifferent to their fellow human beings.

I think it was at that traffic light that I lost faith and gave up on the whole national unity story line. It was then that I started realizing that our respons to the attacks was nothing but a continuation of the attitudes, policies, and actions that had instigated them in the first place.

Retrospectively, my main observation of the affect of the September 11 attacks on our country was that they served primarily as a distraction. For a time, their enormity and evil unified the national focus, fixing it onto those who we blamed for the attacks, and turning it away from any kind of thoughtful introspection or self criticsm.

As time has passed, those images, as putrid and viscous as they are, have faded and been assimilated into our everyday lives. Now, in perspective, they fail to stir the emotions they once did. Side-by-side with pictures of Iraqi streets, strewn with the limbs of civilians scattered by both American and Arab bombs, the images from September 11 still convey the epitome of absolute evil, but no longer can they inflame our sense of moral superiority. Along side the brutal reality of our own careless destruction of human life, the images of September 11 leave us clinging only to our regret, disappointment, and sorrow.

Four years on now, the flags have come down, the FDNY t-shirts lay in the bottoms of drawers or charity bins, and we have come so far that we aren't even concerned that Osama Bin Laden is still at large.

This summer I went camping at Detroit Lake, and as will happen, I was forced to make a run into Detroit, OR, to stock up on beer and mixers. We went to the first grocery we saw on the main road that runs through town, and as I walked to the door I notice an improvised poster in the window.

Crudely printed in B&W, and with an inked in red cross-hair across his face, was a picture of Osama Bin Laden. Inside, browsing through the store's sunglass selection, and listening to the country music that played from the PA, I reflected on that sign. It was very plain, very simple, but it conveyed a succinct and powerful message. It was a plea for justice. Or at least a plea for vengeance. While everyone else has gone on with their lives, in rural Oregon there is still a hunger for closure, at least in one person, who took the time to make that 8.5x11 poster and tape up in the window, declaring publicly their demand for satisfaction.

But surely there must be a distinction - between justice and vengeance. Condemnation and hate. Acceptance and denial. War and peace.

There is, and those who believe, those who don't, and those who count Jesus as their favorite philosopher, can all appreciate this summation of it equally.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.

Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.

Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?