Saturday, September 11, 2010

Terror and Humanity

(On September 11, 2001, an editor from Newsday called me at home and asked me to write about what was happening in New York.  I didn't know what to write, or if I could write anything.  I was traumatized by what I saw on TV and what was happening a few miles from my apartment.  The next day the following article appeared in Newsday and many other newspapers.  I think the words still resonate today, amid the battles we are fighting with each other and within ourselves.)

This one is for the thousands of individuals who died yesterday. Those innocents. It's hard to write this, to write anything. The fathers and mothers. The children. Brothers and sisters. They died for somebody's idea of a just cause. But you were simply killing innocents, can't you understand that? The children visiting the top of the World Trade Center were simply looking at the view. The mothers who jumped out of these skyscrapers, in desperation, did not know about your just cause and did not care about politics. These innocents who died are America, and those who will mourn them today will rebuild our great city and our great country in their honor. We don't have a choice but to rebuild and try again to live in this sometimes nightmarish world. In these thousands who died amid an ordinary Tuesday morning that metamorphosed into terror, we have a representation of America. But that does not mean they bear any individual or collective responsibility for your hate.

You hated them simply because they were a disembodied 'America' in your mind, an abstract idea, something easy to hate because you had already categorized them into something distant, something you can't or won't touch, something far away you will not have any discourse with. A thing. For you, killing the Twin Towers was killing America. Killing buildings was equivalent to killing people, to killing a country. All these 'things' were the same, in your hate-filled mind, but you were wrong. You have killed innocents. You have killed individuals. You categorized us into this thing that you hate, you idealized us into something wretched, and you went about trying to kill this idea-thing with your horrible acts. But you were wrong, and this is why America, this unique and wonderful land of diversity, this expanse of individuals working together, cannot be defeated by your hateful acts. We will rebuild our country, and we will always remember those innocents who died yesterday.

What I believe this Tuesday should teach us, if we can still learn anything in our deepest grief and shock, is that our ideas, when we turn them into hateful things, when we categorize innocents into being disembodied entities, these ideas and the minds that latch onto these idea-things for the sake of a warped clarity, they are at the root of what is evil. To be human is to engage with, to care about. To be human is to love another. To be human is to communicate with someone, even if you are only shouting at them. The most human of all is discourse. With nature. With other human beings. Even with other ideas. But when you prefer an island of clarity in your mind, when you don't want to be contradicted, when you don't want to defend your actions, then you will turn human beings, innocents, into things. And then it so easy to kill these 'things' in your mind.

But even if America, that America of individuals working together, was deeply wounded on this black Tuesday, even if thousands of us died because someone turned us into a thing to hate in his mind, America will not be defeated. We will get up again. We will grieve. We may even hate for a while, too, because our anger has reached unimaginable levels. But we will fight against our hate, we will argue against it, in our own minds, and we will finally put it aside as something at the root of evil, where we do not want to go. And then we will win our fight to be human. One day in the distant future, one day perhaps far away, we will have a good day when we don't cry anymore for those thousands of innocents who died yesterday. We will never forget them, but we will go on with caring about, loving, and arguing with each other. And then, on another clear and sunny day, when we should be taking our children to the park or to visit a famous skyscraper or simply getting them ready for their first week of school, we will be wounded again by someone who has not bothered to escape the idea-things in his mind. And never shall we give up on ourselves. Never. This one is for the thousands of individuals who died yesterday. I wish I had known every single one of them.