21 September 2001

"I don't care about the word isolationism, and I
 don't care about the word appeasement.  I'm
 interested in the rights and needs and
responsibilities of the United States. We
 are not the policemen of mankind. We are
 not able to run the world, and we shouldn't
 pretend that we can.  Let us tend to our own
 business, which is great enough as it is. 
It's very great.  We have neglected our own
 affairs.  Our education is inadequate, our
 cities are badly built, our social arrangements
are unsatisfactory.  We can't wait another
 generation.  Unless we can surmount this crisis,
 and work and get going onto the path of a
settlement in Asia, and a settlement in Europe,
 all of these plans of the Great Society here
 at home, all the plans for the rebuilding of
 backward countries in other continents will
 all be put on the shelf, because war interrupts
 everything like that."

  - Conversations with Walter Lippmann (1965). 
    Lippman and Sevareid, February 22, 1965
For more than a week now, I've been taking in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the world around me in a new way. I've wrapped my thoughts around the horrors we are daily reporting in our news media, and pinned my hopes on the slender possibility there will be more miracles, more good than bad, coming out of the wreckage. I've read and heard many people's ideas about how their lives and mine are going to change as a result of what happened on September 11, 2001.

Nobody seems to be discussing how our lives are going to change as a result of what happens today, what we think and do today, in this minute, as we exist right now. It's as if we are willing to negate our own Zeitgeist, our collective interpretation of the world at an unconscious, or perhaps preconscious, level. Why do you suppose that is?

I'll tell you what I think it is: we're afraid of being held fully accountable for what we do, think, and say. We are immobilized by our unreasoning belief that something we did or said somehow caused these terrible things to happen. Well, guess what? We did, when we refused to act in the name of goodness, preferring to ignore the growing problems. We did, when we declined to look squarely at what frightens or disgusts us--our ignorance feeds our fear, and gives evil purchase in our lives. We did, when we chose to disengage, rather than engage, hoping the horrors would magically disappear, or that somebody else would take care of it for us.

I'd be willing to bet many people are already nostalgic for our "lost innocence," and they wish for a return to the halcyon days of unquestioned invincibility and power in the world. I wish for that, too. I grew up at a time when the threat of nuclear destruction seemed everywhere, a time when my teachers spent time instructing me in the "duck and cover" maneuver to take in the event of an incoming missile. I even have a photograph of that drill, with my nine- and ten-year-old classmates peering out from under their desks, waiting for the all clear signal from the teacher. The faces are smiling, but I remember how anxious I felt, curled into a ball on the hardwood floor, waiting.

And this is what some people now yearn for--a return to that anxiety, and a chance to raise another generation of fearful children who hide from megaton bombs under pressed wood platforms. Others yearn for an end to the violence and hatred, but with somebody else in charge.

Me? I yearn for every person who has a family, a vote, a voice, to make himself or herself heard, and to participate actively in the process of rebuilding ourselves and healing the wounds that cripple us. I want people to put their money, time, and energy into choosing what they will support in this world. I want people to understand that what they feel, think, say, and do really matters, and can make a difference.

Who knows which one of us will be the one hundredth monkey?

Excuse me. I have a sudden urge to go wash a sweet potato.


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