Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9.11.2007: Seeing the world through changed eyes

Today we Americans mark the 6th year of the post 9-11 era. It's an occasion where we sadly commemorate that day's epoch-making events with heartfelt speeches and prayerful moments of silence. That silence doesn't come easily, however. The day's memories evoke a roiling mixture of thought and emotion, as we try to come to terms with all of the personal, social and political changes that have transpired in the mind-spinning span of time since.

When three hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in DC, it seemed a victory for those who traffic in fear and hate, but it was also a shining moment of heroism and humanity for those many police, firefighters and various passersby who sacrificed themselves to rescue and aid the victims. As we found ourselves as a nation under attack, collectively we also made ourselves available to help those in need. On the 6th anniversary, we should reflect on which face of that two sided coin has influenced the intervening years more.

I was on the far side of the country, attending a work-related conference in San Diego that morning. I vividly recall waking early and turning on the news to enter midstream the babble of confused reports on the first impact; black smoke still flowing from the gaping wound of one tower. Then, as if I were yet partly dreaming, I watched the shocking and surreal images of the second jet banking into the steel and glass symbol of American finance.

Panic gripped the whole nation, none of us yet fully grasping the source or scale of the attacks, and each nervously wondering who else might be at risk across the country. The reliable information available via the TV coverage wasn't enough to keep pace with our fear-stoked imaginations. Trying to go about the normal course of our lives became impossible, consumed aw we were with concern for the safety of friends and family.

It's become cliché to say that the world forever changed on 9-11. It's closer to the truth to say our perception of the world did so. Fanaticism had been breeding around the globe for some time prior to that fateful day, and it took a tragedy of epic proportions to make long-slumbering Americans aware of it. Jerked awake to the convulsive global changes taking place, our too immediate response to these new realities was impulsive, violent, and self-defeating.

Those in power recognized the political advantage to be taken of the fear that now gripped us. They fed our newly gained terror with a frenzy of hate for all things other and poorly understood. They nurtured our sense of insecurity, seeding the dark cloud of worry that now reigns over our daily routines.

Our mis-leaders used their bellicose rhetoric to convince us security can only be won by compromising our constitutional freedoms of assembly, privacy and speech. They enlisted us in a perpetual war to justify the fortress walls built up around us. They conscripted our trust and now we march to the increasingly illogical beat of the arguments they've drummed into us.

On September 11, 2007, we find ourselves in a world where it's hard to separate sense from nonsense, real from manufactured, innocent from guilty. Our best hope is to step back and re-examine the social contracts we've been asked to sign — are we better served by shutting ourselves up in a prison of our own making, or by breaking down the barriers to positive change?

There are plenty of reasons to be frightened of this brave new world we've entered, but there are also many affirmations of the good that resides in all of us. If we pay attention to the signs, we'll see that the first hand offered isn't always the one that will lead us to safety. This song from favorite band Radiohead sums up the confusion and conflict I feel around me on this somber anniversary (the formatting of the lyrics is as close as I can get to the way they're published on the CD):

2+2=5 (the lukewarm)
by Radiohead

Are you such a dreamer?
To put the world to rights?
I'll stay home forever
Where two & two always
makes up five
I'll lay down the tracks
Sandbag & hide
January has April's showers
And two & two always
makes up five

I try to sing along
I get it all wrong
I swat em like flies but
Like flies the buggers
Keep coming back
Maybe not
"All hail to the thief"
"But I'm not!"
"Don't question my authority
or put me in the dock"
Go & tell the king that
The sky is falling in
When it's not
Maybe not.

(ahh diddums.)
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