We have seen the enemy and it is us.
We are a nation of excess. We like things big and bold and in your face.
Our restaurants don’t just serve dinner, they serve so much dinner it could feed two or three people.
We don’t just run a flag up the pole, we take it off the pole and wave it around in a crowd in big gestures.
We don’t just buy a truck, we buy a gigantic, black GMC truck that looks like a tank and we drive it aggressively.
We don’t build a quiet meditative monument, we build a gigantic, can-not-miss-it, behemoth of a monument, as if the scale represents the thought.
And that brings me to something I don’t like to write about but feel strongly about: September 11. I don’t like to write about it because my views are a little different from the norm. And yet, I’ve thought so much about it and feel so strongly that I want to address it. So let’s begin.
Like everyone else, that day is branded into my soul. How could I forget? Like everyone else, I remember all too well. But I don’t watch or read much about it any more. It just seems too much. I don’t need to continue to beat into my brain something I already feel so deeply in my heart. An exception was several documentaries produced by National Geographic I viewed recently, and once again I was heartbroken at the loss. Looking in the faces of those so-brave firefighters as they climbed floor after floor in a doomed effort to save people–to do their job–I shook my head, then blessed them all. I watched sadly as families reported that their loved ones were told by Security to stay put and wait for help–and then shared the horror as the families watched their loved ones die in real time when the buildings collapsed. Seeking the right word for that awful day, not even heartbreaking goes far enough.
The hunt for Osama bin Laden took a very long time, but then he was found and killed. I heard Pres. Obama claim that this represented the best of what American can do. I watched Americans celebrate the death of this murderer by gathering together and dancing in the streets, waving American flags, grinning widely, making happy faces, laughing and celebrating.
That, too, was painful. Because when I turned off the sound, the video looked exactly like the celebrations that go on among some Islamic groups when the towers came down. And when ISIS beheads men. The celebrations that occur among radical Muslims when any attacks on the West or Westerners were successful. Those people looked like animals.
And we looked like animals. The same.
My deeply-held belief is that it is wrong to kill. For anyone to kill–not the state, not citizens, not soldiers. It is my belief that only the Divine can take a life.
But we are a vengeful world. Vindictive.
We misunderstand “an eye for an eye.” It was never meant to be taken literally. It was a figurative command that meant secular justice was to be equitable–not excessively harsh nor excessively lenient. It was never meant to be literal.
But how many people looked on those celebrations with the same turning of the stomach that I did? How many saw that our actions in celebrating were just as barbaric as those of the terrorists who celebrated their attack on the West?
“But we didn’t kill their people.” Except in war, of course.
It’s true, we didn’t. But that doesn’t matter, not to me. It is barbaric to celebrate killing of any kind.
“But bin Laden masterminded Sept. 11 and he deserved to die.”
It’s true. He did plan it. But that doesn’t matter to me. No death is more deserving than another. All killing is wrong.
At my very core I know this to be true.
It is time that we stopped lashing out in retribution and found another way. Perhaps bin Laden could not have been taken alive, but people had a choice in their response. And looking just like the victorious enemy just doesn’t seem like a useful response.
I am sad to say that as a society, we are not a thoughtful people. We are reactive. We seek simple solutions. And we are nothing if not vindictive. And that emotion in our hands is bigger than life, just like just about everything in America.
A few years ago I visited the 9/11 Memorial. The scale was gigantic. I stood in front of the deep fountains and traced the names of the dead. I thought about what they’d gone through and said a prayer.
And yet, the place left me cold. I had to work hard in my head and heart to be moved. It didn’t hit me like, say the Oklahoma monument had. A more simple and thoughtful and moving memorial.
Why didn’t they use the footprint of the World Trade Center to make a huge, multi-faith meditation garden? I wondered. A place where we could sit and reflect and pray? A place that took an ugly event and transformed it into a thing of peace, reflection and beauty?
It’s not our way to think quiet and peaceful. We think big and hit-you-in-the-face. It’s the American way.
But there is much about 9/11 that requires quiet reflection and more thought than many give it.
It is a complex world and I don’t pretend to have any answers. But what I do know with certainty is that killing of any kind is wrong and celebrating death of anyone makes us as barbaric as terrorists.