Nine Years Later

Everyone has a story.  Mine is no more significant or insignificant than any other.  I lived and worked in New York City for a short time from late 1997 to early 1998.  I can’t tell you what I was doing there, but I can tell you about my short affair with two striking structures that stood a short walk from my office.

I would often walk over to eat lunch in the World Trade Center.  I had found a small, but nice book store that I frequented.   I rode the trains that ran from there to parts farther north and into New Jersey.  Going to those buildings was always a treat for me.

The towers were my compass.  If I were discombobulated after popping up out of the subway system, I’d look around, and there they’d be.  Without fail, they always told me where I was and how to get where I was going.  In this age of GPS-enabled smart phones, I may not have needed them as I did then.

I nearly accepted a job offer in New York City that would’ve put me right there, right then.  Due to the relatively low pay offered, I’d have had to live in New Jersey and commute on the PATH train.  Would I have been there, in the basement of WTC 1 nine years ago?  Might I have gotten in early, escaping death?  Would I have joined the relief effort?  Might I have been sick or overslept, missing everything?  The mind plays tricks.

On this day nine years ago, the needle was torn from that compass.

In other countries, “enemies” of my home rose up in the streets to sing and dance in celebration over the deliberate theft of life.  In my country, political enemies stood together, embraced each other on the steps of the very seat of our way of life, and sang patriotic songs.

Upon seeing the latter, a friend remarked that this could be the end of political divisiveness.  Were we finally united?

Nine years later, we are more divided than I can ever remember being in my life.  Our former president involved us in a war that, although voted for and supported financially by his political opponents, was then used by those opponents as a blood-soaked paintbrush to demonize him and others “like” him.

Nine years later, the “other” side is in charge.  Our president is pitting race against race, social class against social class, have-nots against haves.  He travels the world apologizing for a country that he, himself, seems ashamed of.  Envy, greed, fear, and racism are wielded like broadswords to behead all opposition.  Debt and spending are more out of control than ever.  Wealth redistribution is in vogue.  Millions are out of work.  A generation is emotionally scarred.  And I am ashamed.

Nine years later, we have wars and rumors of wars.  We have parareligious attention whores blowing on the flames of hatred like Bear Grylls trying to start a fire with a Q-tip and a dry piece of balsa wood.  Although the prime instigator now claims that he will never burn a Qur’an, “not today, not ever,” much damage has already been done.  In response to the threats of this (largely-) lone nutjub, some in the Muslim world rise up and offer threats of death to all of us because one of us threatened to burn paper.

Nine years later, some rip at the still-fresh wounds by demanding they be allowed to erect a “mosque” near what some consider to be untouchable holy ground.  If you oppose them, you are against the very foundations of freedom.  If you support them, you are heartless and insensitive.  Where is the sensible middle ground?  Where is thoughtful discourse?  Why must everything be a black and white fight to the death?

Nine years later, we still can’t seem to understand the difference between doing what is right in the name of being a good neighbor versus capitulating to a small sect of bloodthirsty radicals.  Across the media spectrum, talking heads on all sides bicker with and dehumanize the opposition.  They are too close to their own personal agendas to realize that they are, in reality, having two different conversations.  Rooted in their ways, financially-dependent on continued hatred and fear, neither side is willing to see a bigger picture.

Nine years later, we are still more imprisoned by our own fear and willingness to push  responsibility for own security and well-being onto a power-hungry minority than we ever were by the possibility of real attacks from abroad.

Nine years later, I have some touchy questions to pose to my more radical Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters.  I do not raise these questions lightly; I ask in all respect and humility.

If it is true that Yaweh willingly offered up his only begotten Son to torture and murder at the hands of the very people he had been sent to redeem, why would Allah be threatened by words or burning paper?  I do not believe that He is.  Why do you believe that He is?  If He is offended, why does He need you to avenge Him?

Islam, Judaism, and Christianity share common roots.  If Yaweh and Allah are truly the same God, as some believe, why are they not equally forgiving of our immature humanity?  Muslims burn Bibles and destroy symbols of Christendom and threaten death over cartoons they find offensive.  How is this justifiable?

To my Pastor friend in Gainesville: Do you believe in your heart that Christ would sanction creating more division amongst His children by threatening to burn the holy books of others?  Christ said that there are truly only two commandments:  Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.  How do you reconcile your choices?

I sometimes call myself a Zen Christian.  I have various reasons for doing so, but they are my own, and I will leave personal interpretation to the reader.  Yasutani Hakuun, a Zen Buddhist teacher, is credited with saying: “The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.”  Until we all truly understand this, I fear that there is little hope.

In closing, I want to say that I didn’t mention the loss of life in Pennsylvania, as I have no direct personal tie to it.  Additionally, I didn’t mention the loss of life in the Pentagon, as my personal ties to it are too great.  As such, I am unqualified to speak about either.

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  • Dave

    Great post Mike.

    A few months after the HSBC bombings in Turkey I was scheduled, that December to fly to Istanbul, Turkey to say goodbye to a good friend I spent the last 2 years in graduate school getting to know. We bought our tickets, then the bombings happened. My friend asked if I wanted to cancel to the cost of $250. Two things happened: 1) Turkey rounded up 4000 dissidents and either deported them or executed them under the radar 2) The collective illusions that Muslims would never kill Muslims was shattered overnight. I decided to go anyway, not to be deterred by a bunch of nutjobs and lose $250.

    We had many personal discussions and even arguments about our culture versus theirs. This person often felt they were the leading edge of secular Islam. Istanbul is a place steeped in antiquity and is recorded many times in the annals of history as pivotal in human affairs. Many Jews and Christians live there however the main population retains 85% or better Muslim flavor. As a matter of fact, Christianity might not even exist if not for conscientious Turks hiding persecuted Christians for two centuries in a hidden underground city over a thousand years ago. I got over there only to find my hosts celebrating Christmas! They even had a tree, Santa Claus and gifts, of all things, Muslims!! I have only been saddened in the last few years at the changes underlying their own cultural and political fabrics. The more fundamental groups have taken over their parliament and decided its ok to require women to wear head scarves again. The populist party defeated it by a few votes and now women may wear them, although are not required. This from a Muslim country that outright banned head scarves for over 70 years. They greatly thought we’d vote for Kerry, much to their dismay thought that we were nuts at electing Bush again, only to cheer greatly for us when we captured Saddam. Who can figure out the eastern world that is struggling to westernize. They are not bad people. There are however evil forces at foot here. Until our politicians stop try to invent new cool-aid and selling it on the street regarding the real life and death struggle of these cultures (and ours) will I support any fervor surrounding any of these types of events.

    @Karen – the bullshit is high and deep and on both sides. I don’t seek to vilify any of our politicians nor will I support any vitriolic hate on either side. In the bullshit somewhere is truth, if you dare to wade in to find it. IF we cannot find the middle and get back to our roots of what makes us a great country, I believe their will not be much left to explain to your children.

  • I was in Amarillo, TX the morning the towers were hit. My then fiance, now husband Dave and I were moving from Denver back to Houston. I was heavily medicated with a bad kidney stone attack and hardly in my right mind. We stopped for breakfast at a McDonalds along the freeway and heard the chatter. An old man said “did you hear about the towers? Some idiot flew a plane into one of them..” We thought he was just a crazy redneck. We stopped a while later for more coffee only to hear that he wasn’t a crazy redneck, and in fact the second tower had also been hit. It was like a dream…ike the whole world was standing still and we were in the panhandle of TX watching helplessly.

    I have unreconciled losses from that horrible day. Sept 11 also happens to be my husband’s birthday. It happened about one month prior to my wedding. We were uncertain if our planned Honeymoon to Thailand would be a wise idea. We felt, at best, that our travel would be tedious, exhausting.. and it was.

    Nine years later, I still feel uneasy. I still hate flying, I still distrust the “system” built to keep it all from happening again. I am ashamed to see any “religion” claim any violence in the name of any God. I am horrified at what is happening on both sides of the massive trench of arguments, excuses, lies and anger. Who are we now?

    Nine years later, I don’t know what to tell my children and I don’t know how to identify with that awful day that marked our lives forever. I don’t think there are answers, none so simple that we can give them and erase the long line of bullshit we’ve already heard. Nine years later, we have a lot of explaining to do.

    Bravo Michael.