Sunday, September 11, 2011

You don't want to read this.

This is a personal blog. That’s why it’s going up on Sunday. If you’re looking for a bit of cheery, angsty entertainment, that’s what tomorrow’s for (and do come back for that; it promises to be good).

I wasn’t going to blog about the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This isn’t A Pius Man. I’ve been avoiding Facebook and Twitter all day. I’m not going to any of the various memorial services and public commemorations. It just feels wrong to stand in a crowd of mourners and hear people talk about What This Meant To Our Country, or What God Has To Say About This. I’ve never cared much for nationalism, because America for me has always been a nation of ideas, and it rises or falls with them—so what should I care about the dirt? And I have about as clear an idea of what God has to say about the whole thing as I’m likely to get any time soon, because I’ve asked him over and over, and listened very carefully, and it seems he’s said all he’s going to say for now.

I don’t have strong personal memories of the day of the attacks. I was in California, not New York. I remember getting up for school at 5:45 a.m. and hearing that the first plane had struck—I immediately thought of a plane that accidentally hit the Empire State Building in the 1940s. The first tower fell as I was driving to class, and I remember shouting at the car radio when word came down about the Pentagon—“What are they, morons?” I knew it was intentional by then, but these had to be the stupidest terrorists on earth. I remember talking to a friend outside a classroom before the first class started, and a teacher stepping out to tell us the second tower had fallen. My high school was in the flight path of an international airport, and I remember the eerie silence as flights were grounded, broken in late afternoon as I was doing my calculus homework by the unfamiliar snarl of a military jet passing overhead. I went still, and just listened.

The president of my class joined the Marines right after graduation. A childhood friend, born the day after I was, was already in boot camp the day of the attacks. Last I heard he was in Afghanistan. A decade slid by, with two wars that met with varying public support. People told me I should be all for kicking the terrorists’ asses, or shouting No Blood For Oil, or doing just about anything except what I was doing, which was what I’d been doing all along: listening. Listening, and thinking.

And what I think is this:

September 10, 2001 was my eighteenth birthday. And every time I see those photos from the day after, glimpse those videos, I think: welcome to citizenship. Welcome to adulthood. This is the world. You will vote about some of this. Your friends will die for more of it. You might die, too. What will you do about it?

I write stories about hope. I write about unlikely heroes bucking the odds. I write about people who make a difference, however small, however strange. I don’t write about nations, or great battles, or the clash of civilizations. I don’t care. In a thousand years all anyone will know about my lifetime is that three thousand people died and touched off a bloody conflict that will probably be going on long after I’m dust—and those future historians will all be missing the point. This wasn’t about politics, or economic forces, or religion. It was about people who made choices—horrible choices, impossible choices, magnificent choices. Three thousand of them died; many others lived.

So I write about people who choose to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. I write about people who choose to fight when they must, and to refrain when they should. I write about people who don’t give up. I write about people who change the world in small, strange ways, and sometimes in large, strange ways.

I don’t claim to speak for any of the victims who died on my first full day as a citizen. I didn’t know them, and now I never will. I doubt they’d all approve of what’s happened since, but I doubt they’d all oppose it, either. That’s the trouble with three thousand unique individuals—you’ll never get them all to agree perfectly on anything, especially anything about life and death. But that’s three thousand choices out of the world now, and it’s my hope that if I just write enough new choosers, maybe the people who read about them will change the way they make choices of their own. Maybe they will listen, and think.

Welcome to the world. What will you do about it?

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