Saturday, September 11, 2010
Nine years ago today, I was at a school district training for what turned out to be line year as a elementary school teaching assistant. Just as the training was about to begin, there was some commotion in the large district headquarters building hallway, and I went out of the conference room to see what was going on. Someone had plucked a TV at the end of the hallway and two or three dozen people had gathered around it. I saw the Twin Towers on the screen, the smoke coming from one of them.
People were asking what was going on. A fire? A plane crash? There was an unease in the room that was about to shift into horror.
The second plane crashed into the Towers right before our eyes. I hear gasps. Someone shouted "This is America! How can this happen?"
I have to say that as the Twin Towers collapsed on the TV before us, and my fellow co-workers broke out in cries, shouts, and wails, I just stood there - not quite numb, but also not feeling at all part of this group. The first words in my mind as all this happened were "It finally happened."
I didn't loose anyone close to me that day. I have never even been to New York, so I clearly lacked the kind of connection that can lead to heightened emotion. However, I can't help but think that all the misery that has been spawned in the name of this single event very much reflects our collective failure, as a nation, to see how we are, and have always been, just as vulnerable as any other nation.
I'm not patriotic. In fact, I have long viewed the nation-state as a rotten invention that has caused more trouble than good. As the flag bearing and waving increased in the weeks and months after 9/11, I found myself feeling more and more isolated, and wondering how to respond to the actual tragedy that occurred without papering over the vulnerability that is a mark of all of our lives.
In a way, 9/11 probably helped speed up my entrance onto the Zen path. I found myself increasing frustrated, increasingly angry, and increasingly confused as the war in Afghanistan began, and I watched as people who had claimed to be peacemakers called for blood, saying "This one is different. We have to fight it!" Then, I found myself marching in protests, surrounded by people who hated the war, hated President Bush, hated, hated, hated. And slowly, I began to realize that true peace could not come from protests alone. I saw painfully that the hatred of the peacemakers and the hatred of the war-makers was the same hatred.
The events that happened on 9/11/01 were not a surprise to me. They were horrible, for sure - but no less horrible than many other terrorist attacks that have occurred around the world. And the dramas that have been unfolding over the Cordoba House project and the proposed Qu'ran burning in Florida show just how far we as a nation are from truly understanding our place as one amongst the many. As long as too many of us fail to realize that no amount of moral grandstanding, military prowess, or technological advancement can keep us safe, we will continue to be fixated on 9/11 in ways that distort nearly every collective social and economic decision being made.
That doesn't make us unique; every nation seems to have it's historical issues that suck collective energy. But the scale of the destruction, coupled with the reactions that followed, make 9/11 both a potential nation destroyer, and also a catalyst for a major societal shift, if only enough of us could wake up to that truth.