Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11 -- Five Years Later

The weekday morning routine in our house is usually the same. I am the first one up and out of the bedroom, with my "canine escort" moving to see what has changed since she last wandered the halls the night before. This morning, she stopped in the bedroom of our daughter in college, who had spent the weekend with us, going back to her dorm the day before. "She's not here, dog," I said (as if such an explanation could help). There was a pang for a moment as I missed her presence myself -- and that's when it hit me: Those who lost a member of their family in the attacks of the day five years ago, or in the aftermath of fire or of the collapse of the towers may still have empty rooms in their houses -- and they certainly have an empty place in their heart, a place once filled by someone they love, who will never again in this life, in this world, return to that room. How many times does it take before the family dog stops looking for them? My daughter is only a few hours away, and has been gone for less than a day, and I miss her. What is it like for those whose loved one will never be back this side of the grave? I cannot imagine.

Amid the many reports and remembrances on radio and television in the early morning here, two things were striking. The first came from the memorial service taking place outside the Pentagon. Those who have never been in that area probably don't know that the Pentagon sits quite near the flight path to National Airport, which, like the Pentagon, is just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. As the television cameras showed Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in their seats, as a choir sang hymns, as chaplains prayed, and as the Secretary and Vice President spoke, you could not help but hear the aircraft flying overhead -- an eerie sound, given the tragic circumstances of that day five years ago. I find myself wondering what the experience must be like for those who were in the Pentagon that day, near the site of the crash and fire. I know for myself that, no matter where I was in the period after that day, whenever I saw a commercial airliner over a city center, part of me was waiting, wondering: Could it happen again? I can still see in my mind the video of the second plane striking the World Trade Center in New York City; and I was on the opposite side of the country, in San Francisco, on that day. Do the survivors in the Pentagon and in New York City flash back when they hear the sound of aircraft taking off, or landing?

The other striking moment was in a brief interview with an American convert to Islam, introduced on radio as a lifelong resident of Scottsdale, Arizona. This woman spoke of feeling threatened by the stares, and the actions, of others, since the planes crashed and the towers fell. She described an incident that took place as she was driving her car, an attempt by another driver to force her off the road. She wondered whether this country would ever return to the "melting pot" concept and accept that there are others who practice different religions, and leave them in peace; or whether the United States would continue its war against Islam.

Of course, in the United States, she has the liberty to speak in such a way, and the freedom to embrace the religion of her choice. I would have liked to ask her this question: Will the Islamic nations ever accept the “melting pot” concept and accept that there are others who practice different religions, and leave them in peace? Would Moslems accept a form of “dhimmitude” in western countries as the price for freedom? (Not that our pluralistic, and increasingly secular-pagan society would ever take such a step…)

I don’t trust my feelings. On one level, it feels as if I am being manipulated by the media. At a minimum, the images of disaster and death from five years, and the grieving today, are little more than the typical use of tragedy to sell papers (and air time) that is so characteristic of the media. That’s not new; and that’s not news. But I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t more at work here; whether or not the government is using the remembrances of that day to stir us up anew to efforts in the “War on Terror” that is changing us as a society and as a people; and whether or not the media is complicit, knowingly or unknowingly, in this effort by the government. Yes, I know I’ve ranted here before on the parallels I see between the “War on Terror” and the state of perpetual warfare depicted in George Orwell’s novel, 1984; but the parallels are there – I can’t ignore them, nor be silent about them, nor be concerned about the direction we are taking, which, in many ways, leads us closer to that nightmare world… So in the end, I’m going to do my best to live this day as I would any other: To do my prayers; to keep the fast (in remembrance of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist – ironic, isn’t it, that this day falls on the day the world calls 9/11?); to fight against my passions; and to do the tasks, sacred and secular, that are among my responsibilities. I have already prayed for God’s mercy for those who have died, and those who mourn them; and for those who have died to defend this country. I hope you will join me in doing the same.