From Outer Terrorism To Inner Terrorism In 20 Years

I have been thinking all day about what to write here. I debated telling my story of what this date was for me 20 years ago, when I was a new mother holding a healthy infant son and staring in horror at the news as the World Trade Center towers fell. But it seems unimportant what a mother in Denver felt or experienced that day when so many other people suffered and lost so much more than the security they felt in their naïveté about the world.

Steve and I have spent tonight watching the National Geographic special 9/11: One Day in America. It’s a gut wrenching, impactful and, at times, hopeful watch, full of a great deal of never-before-seen footage of that day. It’s made me think about how grateful I am to be here. I’m grateful that I was not a person with a direct connection to anyone who perished that day. I’m grateful for all the first responders who saved countless lives that day. I’m grateful that the actions of the heroes of United Flight 93 thwarted the last of the terrorists’ plans, grateful that their bravery saved our Capitol. I’m grateful I was able to visit New York City and the 9/11 Memorial for the first time a few months ago with my sister and my sons. I’m grateful that we were able to pull together in the days, weeks, and months after the attack and find a way out of mourning and into survival. I’m grateful for anyone who had a hand in saving people that day, cleaning up the remnants of that loss, and creating a meaningful memorial for remembrance.

Yet in the midst of all this gratitude, in the back of my mind, remains this thought. Anti-American terrorists took so much and so many from us that day, but their barbaric plans and actions also gave us a gift. They reminded us how good we can be. In the twenty years since that day, we have done more to destroy our nation than those terrorists did. On January 6th, our own citizens damaged the Capitol that Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick, and Tom Burnett gave their lives to save. How do we save our nation this time? Can we?

It’s About Time To Call It

Under siege

Thirteen days. That’s how long it took for us to get a message from Luke’s school that he has been exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19. We have very little concern that he actually contracted Covid-19. First, he had it last fall. Second, he’s been vaccinated. Third, his high school has a high rate of vaccinations among students. Fourth, the students wear masks inside classrooms. Fifth, Luke has a suspicion about which classmate might be Patient 0, and he knows he had no direct contact with them. So, we’re probably safe, but Luke will get tested tomorrow just in case.

I knew that Covid-19 would affect this school year, but I had hoped it wouldn’t be as impactful as it was last year. In April and May when the US was vaccinating millions of people per day, I got my hopes up that maybe this fall at least could be somewhat more normal for students. Maybe they could be back in classrooms. Maybe they wouldn’t need to be masked. But then the vaccinations slowed to a trickle, and I knew we might end up right back in the same boat. It’s not the same boat, though. Last year, there was no vaccine available, so our boat was lost on tempest tossed seas and we were all in it together, not knowing when we might be able to get back to normal. This year, we got vaccines to help get us on the right track, but they only work if the vast majority of the population gets them. Since so many people decided to opt out, our boat has leaks. So here we are again. As the more transmissible Delta variant rages through the population, sending many of the unvaccinated to hospitals, we’re now fighting about mask mandates and vaccine mandates, public health versus personal freedom. It’s crazy. We’re our own worst enemies because we’re anything but united right now.

I’ve been noticing this week how much we’ve become a nation of people out for themselves. I see it when I am driving. I see it in stores. I see it everywhere I go. We’ve become a nation of people more concerned with personal freedom than the freedom of the country as a whole. Covid-19 is our mutual enemy, but some people don’t see it that way. They think the government and their fellow citizens are the enemy. Until we get ourselves collected and facing the same direction, I will probably be getting more notices from my son’s school.

As I recall the events of 9/11 and our unity on that day, I am heartbroken looking at our country now. How far we have fallen in twenty years. If an attack like the one that happened then occurred now, I’m not certain we would see the same cooperation and personal sacrifice that we saw that day and in the days and weeks following. Twenty years from now, we may still be a nation, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to say we are a great one. Once we’ve lost the ability to selflessly do for others in our communities, to step up when our government is asking us, to get a vaccine or wear a mask because it might save someone else, we can’t really call ourselves the United States of America.

Sell Crazy Someplace Else

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” ~1984

The country has gone crazy. Or perhaps some people in our society have. Up is down. Wrong is right. Bad actors are victims. I just can’t anymore. It’s like I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 again. We have a lot of different opinions and viewpoints in this country, and you should expect that in a nation with a population as varied as ours is. There is now and has always been dissent in the United States. While we don’t all agree on many things, we used to agree that our government and its buildings are sacred and worth protecting. We lost our collective mind when terrorists flew a plane into the Pentagon and then learned they had also planned to take down the Capitol. We were so incensed that we went to war about it. American soldiers died because of it. You don’t mess with our institutions. I used to believe we were all on the same page about this.

On January 6th, I had a television news station on while I was sitting at home doing a puzzle. I expected that there might be some hullaballoo around the certification of the election results, so I was listening to it from the other room because I was curious. All I had planned to do was listen. And then I heard the voice of a news anchor note they had just evacuated Mike Pence from the chamber. That got my attention, so I walked into the living room to see what was going on. For the next five hours, no puzzle pieces were placed. I was glued with rapt attention to the chaos I saw unfolding onscreen. I watched as people beat their way past barricades, used any implement they could find to shatter glass, and then crawled their way in through broken windows into the seat of our government. I stood there, head shaking, incredulous for hours. It felt surreal. Tear gas being unleashed. People climbing the Capitol like it was play equipment in their backyard. I wouldn’t have been any more upset or befuddled or shocked if I had seen wild animals from the African sub-continent barreling their way into that building. I was sad and I was scared, scared for the people inside the building, scared about what it meant about our one nation, supposedly indivisible.

In the days and weeks following the attack, I saw more video footage emerge. I saw footage of a Capitol police officer discharging his weapon as someone attempted to crawl through a broken section of a barricaded door outside the House chamber. I saw footage of a man bragging that he had stolen mail from the desk of Speaker of the House and left her a nasty note. I saw footage of men rifling through pages on desks where our lawmakers had recently been There was footage of congressmen and congresswomen being hastily led down back staircases to avoid the combatants. There was video of members of Congress hiding on the floor in the balcony, gas masks at the ready. There was footage of rioters chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” Hell, the FBI has a tip page loaded with videos and photos of rioters from that day that you can look at right now. Exactly eight months later, we have a preponderance of video and photographic proof of what unfolded that day. Still, some would have you believe you didn’t see what you did. It was a peaceful protest, they say. There were just a few bad actors. It’s all been blown way out of proportion. Some of these people weren’t even our people, they say, despite a lack of sufficient evidence to back their claim. They say these things and they assume that if they repeat them often enough you will come to believe them, come to question what you know you saw and to accept their alternate version of the truth of what happened before our eyes that day.

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.”

In the months since that attack on the Capitol, various rioters have been arrested and charged because of the overwhelming evidence on video footage from that day. Now there is another rally planned for the Capitol, a Justice for J6 rally, on September 18th. There will be a march to the Capitol again. This is not to Stop the Steal, but to seek “justice” for those who viciously beat police officers with flagpoles and hockey sticks, ransacked the Capitol causing over 1.5 million in damage, actively sought to harm members of Congress, the Speaker, and the Vice President, and were then held accountable according to the laws of these United States. You just can’t even. I’m shaking my head again.

And all of this leads me to where I landed tonight after learning more about the next rally at the Capitol. It leads me to the film As Good As It Gets, starring Jack Nicholson, because you just can’t add more crazy to what is already batshit lunacy. If an alien ship were to hover above my house tonight, open its bottom hatch, and turn on its light beam in preparation to suck me into their dimension, I would utter this line from that movie:

“Sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here.”

Being some of the only truly intelligent life in the universe, they would turn off the light, close the hatch, zip away, and never return. Ain’t nothing to see here, folks.

Our Nation of Fools, Zealots, and Unicorns

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” ~Abraham Lincoln

“Never argue with a fool. Onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” ~Mark Twain

You know what makes me tired? I mean, mother-of-toddler-triplets tired? The non-stop, exhaustive, political and religious divisiveness presented in the daily media. With Hillary Clinton’s long-expected announcement about her second presidential bid, things have become even uglier in my world. It’s not that I’m not interested in politics. I am. Like most Americans, I have plenty of opinions about our government and whether we have become the kind of nation our forefathers envisioned when they drafted our Constitution. Most of these opinions I keep to myself because I’ve learned that bickering with people whose minds are made up is a Sisyphean task. People say they’re capable of open-ended, honest, fair, and cooperative discourse about opposing views, but I’ve seen too many dinner parties turn into shouting matches over who is right and who is stupid to believe it exists. And the more polarized we’ve become as a nation, the less likely it seems that we will ever be able to have friendly discussions about opposing political or religious views. It’s a shame, really.

I have a significant number of family members and friends who never seem to tire of political and religious controversy. In the days before I knew better, I got into “discussions” (yes…that word needs quotation marks) with these people about my views. Some of these people wrote me off. The rest, however, made me their pet cause, which has proven to be worse. These people have since made it their life’s work to enlighten me about how misguided I am in an effort to save my soul. This, too, is exhausting. There aren’t enough free hours in my day to read the emailed articles sent to inform me of my inherent and unacceptable wrongness. So, I don’t read them. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I had a choice…I could save established relationships with people who disagree with me or I could spend my life defending myself and my views to them while becoming increasingly agitated about my need to do so. So I chose to let go. The emails sent for my edification go straight into my junk folder where they remain unopened in communication limbo. Every once in a while, I hit delete for the whole lot of filtered messages in a ritualistic, spiritual cleansing.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” ~Abraham Lincoln

Some people think that my unwillingness to go into battle over my beliefs is cowardly. While they proudly spout their views in every possible public forum under the guise of free speech, repeating news-generated talking points or quoting pieces from partisan publications, I remain silent. And my silence merely reinforces their opinion that if my beliefs held any merit I could defend them. It’s a nasty cycle. I suppose I could catalog and save statistical evidence to offer while disputing my detractors, but how would that ever be worth the effort when they are so convinced of their moral higher ground that they would find a way to dispel my proof and continue along in their assertion that I am at best misguided and at worst completely wrong? I’m female and, despite having been raised Catholic, I now identify more as atheist than Christian. I’m an anomaly. According to a Pew Research study in 2012, only 2.4% of US citizens identify as atheist. Of that 2.4%, it’s been estimated that only 25% are women. I’m so far out there right now, statistically speaking, that I’m nearly a unicorn. Some don’t believe I even exist.

Because I am different from the majority and do not myself fit in, I work on accepting others where they are because life is hard enough without creating controversy where none is necessary. In 2001, we bonded over a previously unimaginable horror. In those moments after the Twin Towers fell, there were no labels. It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican, Christian or Jew, pink or brown. In those moments, we were all simply Americans. While I would never wish for those days back, I do have some nostalgia for the feeling that, as different as we were, we were all in it together. And I wonder sometimes at how in 14 years we’ve slid so far away from the united in the United States of America. Us versus them is now a continual ideological battle being waged within our own borders. It serves the best interests of no one.

So, I won’t debate you if our politics and religious views don’t mesh. I won’t unfriend you on Facebook merely because we don’t agree. But I won’t support this pervasive notion that any one group has cornered the market on morality in this country. There is no one way to be more intrinsically American than another, and no one group deserves a greater say than another. As a young child in the early 70s, I learned that we were free to be you and me. We were all unique, but we all somehow belonged here together in our differences. Maybe that was really idealistic, but I liked that message. I’m not exactly sure when things changed and we became so intolerant of the value of each individual within the confines of our united society, but I’m not buying into this new paradigm. I’m not defending my beliefs. I’m not kowtowing to the majority you create that leaves me on the outside. And I’m not teaching my kids with my actions that they have to explain why their opinion counts. It just does. They’re free to be whatever they want, and they don’t have to fit in to belong. This is America, dammit. And their mother is a frigging unicorn.

You Just Never Know

It really is the little things.

I struggled this morning trying to decide what to use this platform to say on this somber day. Every adult has their own personal memory of what the morning of September 11, 2001, was like for them. My story is unremarkable. It was 7 a.m. mountain time, I was holding my then three month old son, Joe, and I turned on the television to NBC to watch a few minutes of the Today Show. I remember standing there looking at the footage of the first tower on fire, listening to the broadcasters, and being naively confused about what I was seeing. How could a pilot accidentally fly a plane into a building? A few minutes later I was watching the live footage as the second plane hit the second tower, and my confusion dispersed like the smoke rising into the clouds. The rest of my day was spent crying while watching the news footage, holding my infant son, and wondering what kind of world I had brought him into.

I was one of the lucky ones. I lost no one that day. I knew no one who was there. I was 1800 miles away, removed from the terror except for what I witnessed on television. On YouTube, I can watch that same video footage from NBC that I saw that morning. I watch it in tears every single time. I can’t fathom what that day was like for anyone in New York, anyone who was looking for a loved one, or anyone who lost someone. My still visceral reaction to the video tells me that those who were directly involved with the events of that day must suffer the reopening of wounds and the revisiting of horror on this date. I can’t even imagine.

I was out on my inline skates this morning as I struggled to think of what to say about the unspeakable. The sky was dotted with light clouds. The leaves on the cottonwood trees, now both green and gold, were whispering in the breeze. There were snowy egrets and cormorants on the river. I was at peace. There is nothing I can say about that morning that hasn’t already been said. I spent years reliving the terror of that day on its anniversary. This year, though, I’ve decided to approach it from a different place. I need to focus on something positive. I have everything in the world to live for, and I won’t waste a minute more of it being depressed about the things I cannot change. What happened that day was horrific. I will never forget it. But, recalling the paralyzing fear and stomach-churning agony of that day doesn’t change a thing. 2,977 innocent people died that day. I did not.

So, starting today and going forward, I am going to recall the events of September 11, 2001, pay my mental respects to those who sacrificed that day, and then find something positive to live for in the moment. Every life comes with a death sentence. To honor the thousands who died this day eleven years ago, I am going to hug my kids, take a walk, savor a piece of cake to help celebrate the birthdays of those who happen to have been born on September 11th, and cherish the now. We never know how life might unfold or how death might unravel our life. Take some time today to thank a police officer or firefighter. Hug those you love. Find something beautiful and life-affirming to enjoy. Savor what you have. Never forget, but live wisely because you just never know what a day might have in store for you.