Sunday, September 25, 2011

my mother taught me...

i thought this was one of the sweetest birthday gifts ever, from two of the most delightful (and clever) kids ever. well done -- and happy birthday, m!

Monday, September 12, 2011

never forget

like many americans, i remember precisely where i was and what i was doing when i got the news: sleeping in my bed. our housemate r awakened us ridiculously early; i was so disoriented that it took me a minute to clue in to the fact it wasn't a dream, that someone really was calling up the stairs to us. "you need to come now," she said urgently. "something terrible is happening."

we watched in horror as the day unfolded on live television. the north tower had already been hit and was on fire, belching huge plumes of smoke, but no one was sure of what had happened. some were saying that it was an accident, while others were already speculating that we had been struck by terrorists. not long after that, we actually saw the second plane strike the south tower. we watched helplessly as people jumped to their deaths rather than waiting for the smoke and fire to consume them. not long after that, we heard that the pentagon had also been struck. within the hour, the south tower collapsed entirely and then later, the north tower joined it in oblivion; their destruction looked eerily like the videos of building demolitions that i was so fascinated by as a child. finally, news came that another jet had gone down somewhere in pennsylvania. none of us knew for sure, but we all suspected that it was related to the others. it was all so surreal, like a terrible disaster movie that you can't walk out of. as andrew card famously told the president, america was under attack.

"the falling man"
in the days that followed, we were shellshocked. late-night comedians refused to tell jokes. sports talkshow hosts on KNBR 68, the sports leader, wouldn't talk about sports. the stock exchange and the skies over america were closed. politicians put aside their differences to affirm their essential unity as americans. neighborhoods all over the u.s. turned red, white, and blue -- even in liberal berkeley.

america made a promise that day to "never forget," and at least in the literal sense, that's one we've kept. there are many ways we commemorate that fateful day. we retell the events of 9/11 as a horrible tragedy, recall and honor the victims, and grieve. we celebrate the valor of firefighters and police officers, and the kindness and courage of ordinary people. we tap into our national pride, rejoicing in the resilience of the american spirit and resolving never to back down from this kind of attack. there's some good in all of that.

but i have to wonder if we've forgotten the truest and most important lessons of the day: that we are vulnerable (not nearly as much in control as we like to imagine), that some of the things we spend hours and effort and money pursuing don't really matter all that much, that evil is real... and that deep down, we still long for the transcendent -- something truer, better, and more lasting than what we can see with the natural eye.