Ten years ago on September 11th, I was living in Arizona with my niece. I was still in my room when Cindy knocked on my door. "Aunt Kathie," she said, "I think something terrible has happened." We spent the rest of the day watching the planes fly over and over into the two giant landmark buildings that had been part of the landscape of 33 years of my life. It seemed unreal. It was too horrible to watch and to horrible to turn away from. As the day wore on and in the next couple of days, it felt as though the whole world had engaged in a collective gasp and been inspired with an impulse to embrace rather than strike out. It seemed that good might arise from evil. Alas, that didn't happen. Instead fear mongering and wars and torture and bigotry (despite initial protestations against it) were fed by the Bush administration and eagerly inhaled by a nation whose psyche had been shaken to its core. We were America, rich and powerful and lovable. We were the good guys. Why would someone kill a bunch of us - and not soldiers, either, regular people at their desks working or maybe sipping a cup of wake-up coffee - for no reason and with no warning. I had an agoraphobia column at the time. That day I wrote about Terrorism and Love. I still think love is the answer to hate and violence. Usually, because I don't think I can say it better than I did that day - in the moment of the event - I just repost it on the 11th, but this year I seem to have other things to say as well, I guess.
From my perspectives Bin Laden and his little gang of evil doers succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, not because they destroyed two buildings and killed thousands of people, but because we allowed ourselves to be poisoned from within. We were fed - and we imbibed - daily does of "be afraid" messages, told over and over that life could never be the same. We were told that we had to give up rights in order to be safe. We were told we had to betray our fundamental integrity in order to be safe. We were told we had to invade a country that had not had anything to do with the bombings in order to be safe. And though people like me signed petitions and wrote letters and people better than me went to the streets to protest - as a nation, we sat back and allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we had to do evil in order to be "safe." Of course doing evil didn't make us any safer. It probably made us less safe. It certainly made us less ourselves, a nation which, even when it had fallen short, had always tried to do good. It cost us truckload of money too and drove us into well of debt from which we are still trying to escape. Maybe it's fanciful of me, but I think part of the reason we are remaining stuck is because we have lost our sense of identity. I think it's why we are so divided as well. As a people we are on separate roads to re-defining ourselves. There is the Regressive Republican path of uber patriotism (which I think is what got us into the pit in the first place) and the fuzzier, mushier Progressive road (my choice) which is more introspective and self-critical. I fear for our future. I know we were never a perfect nation, but we seem to have lost our way, we seem to have lost our moral compass and until we refind it, I don't know if we can recover from the rest. I still believe that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld should be held accountable for torture and a war that had no justification. If we don't face up to the truth about ourselves and things we have done, how can we ever move past them? I don't know. I don't think we are going to do it - at least not in my lifetime - but I wish we would, even if it hurts our pride and our sense of honor. Sometimes pride needs to be hurt if honor is to be truly recovered.
One other thing that truly bothers me - and this, alas, is not new - is how we treat those we call heroes. We love talking about how wonderful our soldiers are. We love invoking the nobility of the first responders, but apparently, that's as far as it goes. It is offensive to me that there is even a question about offering health care to these men and women who went into an inferno and saved many lives and who then spent weeks and months digging through rubble, initially in hopes of saving lives and eventually in a quest for bodies and body parts. Beyond the physical trauma, I can't imagine the emotional horror of facing this day after day after day. And now, 10 years later - they are having to beg and fight for medical care from an nation that talks gratitude but seems to actually have none. We need studies to see if their cancers were caused by 9/11 dust? What is the difference? They went through something - for US - that nobody else did. I don't care if their cancer is from smoking or their work at Ground Zero. We should care for them because they cared for us. They earned it and they shouldn't have to prove anything to us. They already proved all they needed to in those hours and days and weeks and months 10 years ago. Or that's what I think.
I don't really have much else to say - or I have so much else to say that there isn't room or time. I'm not sure. I think the memorial pools at Ground Zero look beautiful. I will probably never go there in person, but they look healing to me. Peaceful. I wish our society and the world had gone with our first impulse in those first hours and days... with the impulse toward peace and embracing one another. I wish we had not chosen bombs and fear and hate. I don't think violence resolves violence, I think it feeds it. I don't think it can always be avoided, but I think it should always be the last resort. Imagine if the billions we had spent killing people in Afghanistan and Iraq had instead gone to schools and food and medicine, here and around the world. Maybe there would be no global recession. Maybe the Arab Spring would have come sooner and been less bloody. We can never know, of course, but there would be hundreds of thousands of human beings - American and non-American - who would still be living and laughing and hugging their children or their parents.
In the end - my prayer is for peace, my dream is that we send love to ALL people even those we think of as enemies, whether they are the neighbor we can't stand, the politician (this one is SOOO hard) we loathe, or the strange person somewhere in the world who is wrapped in hatred of us that we don't deserve. Hate poisons the hater. It's a reiki lesson that the energy we send out moves through us. That's true whether it's reiki or hate or love. The poison we give out we first drink ourselves. Love tastes better.