Repost: Living for 9/12
On another blog, I posted this a few days before the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I re-post now because, well, I haven’t come up with anything wiser in the years since:
Living for 9/12
originally posted September 2002
A lot of people are grumbling about how “the media” is obsessing on the anniversary of the World Trade Center terrorist attack to the point of overkill. I won’t comment on that save to say that that’s sort of like a heroin addict blaming his dealer for all of his problems–while it’s true that the dealer has a vested interest in the addict’s predicament, the addiction is the problem, not the drug or its delivery system.
It was during one of those discussions about the media coverage that I heard a woman on the radio sum up my feelings perfectly: “I am living for 9/12.”
By which I don’t mean that I’m gritting my teeth and just waiting for “it all to be over.” It won’t all be over just because the calendar has passed an anniversary. There will be more tragedies. There will be media circuses. There will be round table discussions about the meaning of this, that, and the other miniscule aspect of each.
But there will also be life. The sun is going to rise. Flowers will bloom in spring time. Leaves will turn magickal colors in the fall. There will come soft rains.
I have no delusions about human nature. Look at how angry people who love each other can get over things like what gravy to serve with a holiday dinner or whether to invite Uncle Rory to the christening, and you’ll understand why it is so difficult to get people to let go of the hate and resentment of ethnic, religious, or political conflicts.
Neither do I despair for humanity. Yes, we have done terrible things, individually and jointly, but we’re also done wonderful things. We’ve created great symphonies, breath-taking paintings, heart-breaking plays, achingly beautiful ballets, and so much more.
Our species has produced outstanding individuals such as Florence Nightingale, Shakespeare, Mozart, Gertrude Stein, Thomas Jefferson, Abigail Adams, Charles Shultz, Dusty Springfield, George Burns and Gracie Allen. And for each of those famous ones, there are millions more who have tried to make the world a better place in their own way.
Like the inhabitants of St. Lawrence, New Foundland, a fishing village in Canada. During World War II a U.S. Navy ship ran aground during a terrible storm. The citizens of St. Lawrence dragged a couple dozen oil-soaked, half-drowned survivors from the cold waters of the North Atlantic. The women of the village scrubbed the fuel oil from the bodies of the men, tended their wounds, wrapped them in warm clothes, and fed them. Families took those men into their homes to recuperate until the Navy could come collect them.
Among those survivers was Lanier Philips, an african-american galley mate from Dekalb county, Georgia. The people of St. Lawrence were the first white people who ever treated Lanier like an equal. He was treated and cared for exactly the same as the white survivors from his ship. Their kindness and respect changed Lanier’s life. Years later, he fought for and won the opportunity to go to sonar school, and became the first african-american sonar tech in U.S. history. More than 50 years later and long-since retired, Lanier donates a portion of his pension checks to support community projects in the little village of St. Lawrence out of gratitude for them teaching him to respect himself.
That’s just one of millions of acts of kindness, respect, and gratitude which individual people commit each day. Though most go unreported, each makes the world a better place for at least one person.
I wish we could somehow help all people to rise above their hate. I wish that everyone could just say, “Enough! No more violence!” But even though that isn’t going to happen any time soon, those other kindnesses, those gifts of good will from our friends, loved ones, and even strangers, plus the gifts of beauty and wonder that the universe gives to all of us equally, whether we deserve them or not–those are what life really is. Add up all of those moments, and weigh them against the bad things, and the world isn’t nearly as bad a place as some would have us believe.
So for now, I’m living for 9/12–a day which happens to come after a terrible anniversary. I don’t know everything that will happen on that day, but I’m pretty darn certain the sun will rise in the east. Birds will probably sing. Somewhere, a baby will be born. Lovers will smile and hold each other tight. Someone will give a hungry person a meal. Someone else will wish a passing stranger a good day. Children will do astounding things that make their parents laugh. It will be a glorious day, and I’ll thank every god and goddess I ever heard of for letting me wake up that morning.
And if I am fortunate enough to live to see 9/12, then I’m going to be living for 9/13, and 9/14, and 9/15… ad infinitum.
Care to join me?