Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Compressed Tragedies: Thoughts on 9/11

Yesterday was a tragic anniversary. Fifteen years ago, three hijacked planes crashed into American buildings. Thousands died in New York, and the last rescue dog from 9/11 passed away recently. Airplane regulations changed, so that you could no longer walk a loved one into the airpor tot say goodbye. People are now judged by their names, if they wore headscarves, and they have new labels: "terrorist," "fundamentalist".

I remember the classroom; it was a trailer with a portable classroom inside, with chalkboards (which I adored seeing) and a small television for morning announcements. In the middle of class someone, probably the teacher, turned the television on to show the planes. I didn't understand what was going on, why we were seeing the same footage. To a kid whose father had just died that summer, death on television seemed very far away.

Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/September_11th_Tribute_in_Light_from_Bayonne,_New_Jersey.jpg

Fifteen years later, I wonder if we have become kinder. This past June a man with a history of domestic abuse and anger shot up an Orlando nightclub for LGBTQ residents, desecrating a safe space on the day that Broadway would host its Tony Awards. In the United States one school shooting happens a week, with one happening last week at the start of the school year. Refugees flee from Syria in the face of war and drought, to face prejudice in Europe, while during our election cycle there are people that enact violence to protestors and suffer no repercussions. An oil company set attack dogs on peaceful protestors in North Dakota and have issued an arrest warrant.

 Even though I know that people are cruel, and that haters will hate, it still boggles me that people will act on the hate, believing that it's right to kill on either side. A minority with power doesn't comprehend that the terrorists that hijacked those planes are very different from the everyday Muslims that want to be left alone, just as they didn't comprehend that the Japanese Americans living peacefully on American soil did not stand with the Pearl Harbor attackers. School board members insist on printing textbooks that leave out unpleasant facts and reinforce racism. We have had many moments of kindness and small victories this year, but the hatred feels cyclical and weighing.

Image source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3700/13212853555_73526723f2_b.jpg

We remember 9/11 because it defined my generation, and the generation that came after it. People poke fun at the 1990s because it had interesting hair choices like mullets, funky pop music, and advertising that tried to be "hip". In the 1990s, however, when I went to school I had the reassurance that things would work out as an adult, that all the hate was in the past and in our history books. I also had the reassurance that if I went to the airport I would only have to worry about saying goodbye to family and arriving on time. After 9/11, that sense of security departed. We could no longer pack shampoos or soaps onto planes unless they were a certain size, and if our names didn't pass scrutiny we could no longer fly. In the meantime the tragedies keep increasing, and we have more pain to remember.

We can't control all the problems of the world, and we as individuals need to figure out which ones we want to tackle. We need to figure out how to remain kind, and how to stay hopeful. Some of us are fighting the bigger problems, one by one, and some are handling the smaller ones. I've recently seen hatred on a smaller scale, that has angered me in turn because of the victims. It's been an effort to restrain my anger to the private sphere, and to try and turn all the negative feelings into good art, and into good lessons. The best good I can do is to tell other people what happened, to comfort those that the harassment hurt, and to restrain the urge to hope that this particular person is exposed and forever branded as a liar.

 Image source: https://lh5.ggpht.com/74nHQ9PMvvu49xfCNf3AXoShjvDwsHd3bd34N-GK7aooWtCgSXFT8Nu4dpmswb-Pu9XiC7AKGZEv8cvjg-YhvMIdx2o=s0

Next year, I hope that we don't have to keep remembering the tragedies, and that we can outnumber them with enough large acts of kindness. The hurt weighs too heavily on my mind, and on our collective minds. Maybe on September 11th in 2017 we will remember the good that has happened and how far we have come.

We have a lot of work to do in the next 365 days to make that possible. I believe it is possible, however. What kindness can take the weight off a great tragedy, and many tragedies? What will you do to combat the overwhelming hate?

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