9/11

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.