Today is September 11th. It is one year since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It has been a year since Flight 93 went down in a field in Pennsylvania. It has been a year --time enough for the reality of life after the attacks to set in. A year for clearing away the wreckage and a year for exacting revenge. And now we have to choose how to go forward.
I wanted to say something commemorating this day but I donít feel especially eloquent. I felt horror and grief and rage a year ago and I feel that now. Every time I think of those poor people, I feel a hole in my stomach. I didnít know a single person killed in the attacks and yet I feel like I lost my own family. I can picture their last moments. I see the plane flying into the second tower over and over again in my head.
I think I felt what every American felt a year ago. And I think I responded as most Americans did Ėby reaching inside to try to be a better person. By feeling a patriotism that I would have scoffed at before the attacks. By counting my blessings more. By feeling united with people all over the world, regardless of ideology or race or geography.
I cried, like everyone. I just feel this profound sadness for everyone concerned. Mostly I think of the children left behind by those who died. But I also think of the parents of those people. And the spouses. It is still too horrific to bear, the thought of that toll. Of those innocent lives. Of malevolence that deep. I feel like something in me broke forever, that day.
I think what it shattered was a sort of innocence Ė-a belief that there was more good in this world than evil. In just one day, I lost my belief that love conquers all. When I think of September 11th, I feel weighed down with grief and worry about the future and this huge sadness at the increasing brutality of humans to each other. I no longer think that the ferocious love I have for my children is enough to protect them.
Every time I think about the people we lost and the tragic faces of those left behind, I understand why revenge is so unsatisfactory. Because it doesnít change anything. We bombed the heck out of a country and we still have no assurances that tragedies of this kind wonít happen again. We have no assurances of our safety or that of our children. We spent billions of dollars and we have nothing. All I am left with is rage for some nameless and faceless enemy.
This year has illuminated the evil in our world for me. I donít know if the events of September 11th heightened my awareness of it or if I just read a lot more newspapers, but I now feel battered by story after story of someone victimizing someone else. No one can promise me that my children wonít be abducted, or sexually abused by some pedophile priest, or blown up by some suicide bomber in Israel. Or that they wonít go through college and get their dream jobs in New York City only to have some murderous cowards fly airplanes into their office buildings. There are no assurances. There werenít any assurances a year ago either, but now we know it. Now we have to make choices Ėwith the full knowledge that there are people out there willing to dedicate their lives to hatred and death.
What do we do now? Do we hide away and stop reading the newspaper and shelter our children from the bad in the world as much as we can? Do we move to some ranch in Montana and isolate ourselves from other humans in order to keep our kids safe? I want to, I really do, but I donít think itís the answer. Life is full of risk. Living means taking chances.
I have said that I believe having children was the single most transformational event of my life. Iím a better person for having my girls. But along with the increase in empathy and kindness and patience and love comes an increase in vulnerability. You canít have just one side of a coin. You have to take the good and the bad. I have a greater understanding of the time in which we live and now I must make a choice.
And what I choose is this: I choose to live.
But not in fear. I will try to make my children as tough and compassionate as I can but not in some golden cocoon. I will tell them of the sorrow in this world even as I teach them about happiness. With this full knowledge, I hope that they will find a way to peace somehow, since it is clear that MY generation canít do it. Still, I will do all that I can for them, because thatís all I can do.
Nothing will ever change what happened on this date a year ago. We will be reminded of it for the rest of our lives. But if we get so wrapped up in avoiding the potential dangers of life, we will miss living. We wonít be able to teach our kids that joy is more the norm than hatred. It comes down to this: we can hide or we can live. We can hate or we can love. But we have to make a conscious choice. If we donít, it is made for us.
I choose joy. I choose LIFE. I choose laughter and a feeling of love so big it might burst us all wide open. I canít give the terrorists any more rage or fear or energy Ėnot because then theyíve won but because then Iíve lost. Then I AM lost.
Itís been a year.
I remain vigilant.
But I choose to live. I choose joy.
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Barbara Cooper 2002
Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (4.5) and Jane (23 months). She lives in Austin, Texas.