I sat down the other day to write a scathing post about 9/11 celebrations and how I hate them, because of what became of the country after the tragedy — two wars, fear- and hate-mongering, fewer American freedoms due to the Patriot Act and its extention, and our own re-traumatizing and resultant anger from repeatedly watching the planes crash into the towers, and saddled with a broken down economy due to it all. I remain convinced of all of that. I remain convinced that 9/11 should never become some “holy day” in American history because of who we became as a nation. I remain convinced that I don’t like hearing bells rung for it, nor the press covering the ringing of the bells and having their “memorials”.
But the bits of services that I saw, and few stories here and there during the course of the day surprised me with their simple heartfelt emotions of love and loss. Not once — not once! — did I hear someone call for “Death to Islam!”. Not once did I hear something bad said about generic “Arabs” or paranoid ravings of “them” taking over the world. Not once did I hear, “We’re better than them because our God or our Party is right!”. Not once! There was no political rancor, no pundit analysis, no paralysis of democracy anywhere. There were just people, loving and remembering people they knew — or in some cases never met, because they were in utero when what-would-have-been-their-loved-one was taken. Even politicians became human. When Bill Clinton heard that the monument in Pennsylvania had run out of funds, he and John Boehner –the scourge of the President and Clinton’s Party — decided that they would hold a fund-raiser to get it completed. No one stalled. No one postured for the cameras or was a lackey for a corporation. Nobody threatened the poor or wanted to deny anybody anything. The closest thing to rousing I heard all day was Clinton’s use of “let’s roll!” in describing Boehner and his action. It was clever. It was a great sound bite, but it didn’t mean anything compared to some firefighter’s description of his brother, or some kid’s poetry reading, or the tears of nearly every speaker. To top it all off, “60 minutes” featured a guy who claimed that water-boarding and other types of torture did not work best. What worked best with the terrorists was … rapport, because they weren’t expecting that. When we treated them like human beings, we confused them because they don’t treat themselves like human beings. We certainly couldn’t be The Great Satan” if we actually talked and listened to them. T he CIA, of course, disavows any knowledge of our humanity, and its success in capturing terrorists. In our church, the pastors talked about how out of kilter we have gotten, and how we should try to rebuild community, rather than isolating and destroying it. They reminded us that we don’t have to be this way. It was a great day of disproving our own images of America, 2011.
True, we as Americans have — for the last 10 years — apparently bought into the vitriol that spews forth from our elected leaders, our religious leaders, our media. We have become self-centered, greedy, and violent — leading us to poverty and soul-sickness, moral and environmental decay – at least on camera, on print, and on radio. The media tells us what we think, what we act like, and so on… and we believe them. The, our leaders pander to that — our worst side , if they consider us at all. But what if they’re wrong?
What if “America is self-centered and greedy and violent and uninterested in becoming educated” is a lie? What if we’re actually – for the most part – not interested in big homes as much as our neighbors? What if the lunatics on TV are actually “the lunatic fringe”? What if we don’t really hate Islam – we just don’t get it? What if we’re actually appalled by torture as individuals? What if Abu Ghraib is actually an anomaly among our troops’ mentality … and our own?
What if, no matter how many times they showed that footage of the planes hitting the towers, we finally just ran out of hate? What if we have finally stopped believing that it 9/11/01 was “the day that changed America , forever!”, no matter how many times the newsreader says so. I’m loathe to quote Led Zeppelin here but “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run/there’s still time to change the road you’re on”. What if, while they were showing that narcissistic America on TV, the real one went home and had dinner, played with the kids and loved their spouse? That’s what I saw on TV yesterday, and heard on the radio, and saw in church. As far as I have heard, Mr. Obama didn’t say much of anything, yesterday. Instead, he quietly laid wreaths in the three different places. I’m sure there were speeches by the President, but yesterday wasn’t a day for politics and Sound Bite Central wasn’t on. That other America was in charge of things yesterday – not the leaders, but the citizens. And those people did a nice job. It would be nice if our “leaders” would pander to them more often and we could end the cycle of leaders’ and pundits’ hate convince us that we already hate, so we do some more.
Now, I’m not saying that we haven’t made America a living hell right now. We have. But what I understand, as of yesterday, is that blaming citizens for their leaders’ behavior is kind of like blaming the victim – and letting the wrong people off the hook. For every time I hear 20% of Americans have the wealth of the other 80 combined”, that means that 80% of us are in the same boat . Even people in that 20% don’t believe in unfairness (hi, Mr. Buffett, Ben and Jerry, and others). In other words, way more that ¾ of us don’t spew hatred because it feels terrible. Most of us don’t beat our wives because we’re appalled by it. Most of us want to pay attention to our children’s future. And because of that, after 10 years, we’re returning to our old selves – the Big (as in “open-hearted”, not as in “most powerful bullies”) America we used to be.
Wouldn’t that be nice? To quote an old saying – “maybe if the people lead, their leaders will follow”. If we’re not already there, maybe we’ll get there again someday, but with nobody watching, maybe we’re already headed in the right direction. It’s right there in front of us – or was yesterday – in the voices of our people, for all of us to hear. It would be ok with me if it were true. How about you?