September 11th

September 11th really gets under my skin.

September 11th means a lot of things to a lot of people. But at the moment, I can’t get my head out of what it means for me.

September 11th, 2001, was my second day at college. Instead of adjusting to a new schedule and thinking about new classes and friends and everything else, I woke up at 8:30ish CT to my dad calling the room. He told me he was okay – he was supposed to have been at the World Trade Center because he had a monthly trip out there for work, but because of driving me to Minnesota, it had been rescheduled. And he told me there had been an attack. I remember thinking it didn’t seem real.

I wandered down the hall of my dorm, still unfamiliar, still scary in its own right, to the lounge. There, the TV was on with the live coverage. One tower had already collapsed. I remember feeling so numb, so lost. I was already in a new place alone and adrift, and suddenly even reality didn’t seem real. I sat on the floor just inside the door and watched the second tower fall. I remember thinking I should have been crying and I remember not knowing why I wasn’t.

A junior who lived on the floor 2 or 3 doors down from me (and I remember his face and his voice but I’ve long since lost his name) sat beside me and asked if I was okay. And then he put me together with my door and realized it said there in big letters that I was from New York. And he realized I wasn’t okay. So he put an arm around me for a while.

Others came in from the floor, and a few from upstairs where I think the TV wasn’t working. There was a girl on the floor from NYC who was in her room trying to call her mom crying hysterically and her roommate asked the RA to come help. The kid from Iraq and the kid from Saudi Arabia came into the lounge and were horrified, but they retreated to their room soon after and people mentioned they might be scared. Already the news was making noise about Muslim terrorists, and the kid from Pakistan wouldn’t look at any of us.

I remember going to class with a new professor and he was cold. He said he didn’t want to talk about it and didn’t want to bring it into our freshman seminar. And I understand the value of going on with the day, but that…lack of empathy. I think now it must have been a coping mechanism, but I never forgave him while I was in that class for what felt so callous.

I remember the college called an emergency convocation and we crowded into the chapel together. I remember sitting with someone…but not who; I only knew a handful of people then. I remember still feeling so cold and numb and lost and I still didn’t cry even though I tried. Fuck, I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry because I wanted someone to make it okay and there was no one. I wanted someone to pull out of their feelings so they could help me with my own because I had no understanding of how to handle what I was feeling.

What’s strange is that I don’t remember much more than that from that particular day. I remember checking the news – everyone was checking the news – and finding out about Flight 93. I remember feeling instantly grateful to be so far away from New York, as though that insulated me from the reality and my reaction. And I remember the rush of gratitude and pride that, even in the days and weeks afterwards, there was no backlash on my college’s campus against people from the Middle East or people who were Muslim or people who LOOKED Muslim. The backlash that happened in other places sickened me, and I was so, so glad to be around people who did not retaliate.

For most people, it was a day of tragedy and it led to a lot of ugly politics and a war and fear and many other things, but for me, it changed everything. Because I was a political science major and had been on that path since my junior year of high school. I was an international relations student and I wanted, I desperately wanted, to save the world. I arrived at a college especially chosen for its international relations program ready to march into a chaotic world and do some good.

And September 11th changed the very world I hoped to save.

I’ve long said that I chose not to continue into government work because of Sarah and the friends I had whom I didn’t want to leave, but I think that may only be fifty percent of the answer. The other fifty happened when the United States reacted to the attacks with war and hate and despicable rhetoric. The other fifty percent happened when September 11th scared me, both for what might happen to me out in the world if I served the US government, and for what the US government might do with me.

How could I lend my will and hope and talent to a government run by a warmonger who went into the wrong goddamn country just to appease what looked like latent daddy issues? How could I serve abroad when my very name and face and job could make me a target? How could I work in Washington DC and try to “protect” this country from a threat when that threat was defined by those in power as anyone whose skin and beliefs vaguely (and sometimes not even vaguely) resembled the hijackers’?

The world I wanted to save died on September 11th. Maybe not in reality, but certainly in me, it died. And I found I didn’t want to be a part of a system that killed civilians while arresting and detaining and torturing them. I found I didn’t want to be affiliated with the lies that my advisor debunked in class within days of the US presentation to the UN of the so-called WMDs in Iraq. I found I didn’t want to carry the United States like a badge into a part of the world we had rightly pissed off just because we were too stupid or too clumsy to tell the difference.

I saw the videos. I read the news. I followed the reactions. People worldwide started to view the United States as a racist, bigoted, violent, war-hungry nation because that is how we were acting. And I decided I didn’t want to help them do it.

I love this country. I have always loved this country. And to join in such actions and decisions felt like a betrayal to everything I love about the US, everything that makes it good. Everything that makes ANY nation good. I could not be a traitor to the ideals of justice and equal treatment and peace, not when those very ideals were coming second to ideas like “security” and “prevention.”

After September 11th, it’s possible the United States needed someone like me more than it ever had, but I just wasn’t strong enough to answer that call. I wasn’t strong enough to face down those men in power. I wrote my final senior thesis on the political philosophy behind espionage because it was the closest I could get to actually studying What The Hell Is The US Doing And Here Is What It Will Do To Us All without grief.

September 11th was a national and international tragedy and the beginning of many more. It was a day of death and sorrow and pain and fear, and it kicked off far more to come. What it is to the world cannot be understated.

It’s not remote to me now. I didn’t lose a friend or loved one in the Towers like my dad did. I didn’t breathe in the carcinogenic dust like the brave men and women who did their best to save lives.

But something in me died that day, and it is a pain that never goes away. Any time I see the NYC skyline, I ache for what is no longer there. Or in movies that haven’t been edited, I ache when I see the Towers stand. I ache because when they broke and fell, they took a piece of me with them. They took my future. Me the Diplomat-to-Be died that day, too. I hurt for the people of my nation and my state and my city (because NYC is MINE as much as it is anyone’s who has ever loved it, anyone’s who has ever walked its streets and felt strangely at home) and I will never stop hurting for them.

And I have never yet stopped hurting for myself, either.

September 11th, 2001 happened to me. It happened to me and it changed me, and while my suffering is nothing, NOTHING, like those who lost loved ones at Ground Zero or the Pentagon or in a field in Pennsylvania, it is no less real. And after it happened to me and it happened to the world, then the suffering went outwards in wars and bombings and retaliation and detainments and invasions. The cycle of violence and pain was exacerbated and spread to hundreds of thousands or millions of people who were just as innocent as those on the planes.

People forget what 9/11 began when they remember 9/11, but I never can. Because I remember my Iraqi floormate whose hometown was involved in fighting before we graduated. I remember my childhood friend and companion and protector, who was called to two tours in Iraq and for whom I was scared all the time.

It happened to me and then it happened to the world. And it KEEPS ON happening because we have learned NOTHING as a people. And maybe, maybe I should have found the courage and stood up and tried to be the change that is so needed. But I don’t have that kind of power.

And maybe that’s also why September 11th gets to me so much. Not only was it traumatic and tied up in the biggest period of upheaval in my life to date, and not only was it a defining moment for my future and choices and career, and not only was it outright horrific in every particular but for the selfless, wonderful heroes who ran into fire and ruin to save lives. But because I can’t forget all the people it happened to, people whose lives were never the same, people who have to live with it in their hearts even if they were nowhere near the attacks themselves. 9/11 isn’t just about the Towers and the Pentagon and Flight 93. It’s about Afghanistan. Iraq. Guantanamo. All that suffering, all those lives, all the weight of that terror and trauma in the world, and it happened to us all.

And there was nothing I could do to stop it, not any part of it. Not the hijackers. Not the invasion of Iraq. Not the prisoners STILL FUCKING HELD without their rights. I was just a little girl, 19 years old and without having grown any true courage yet. By the time I had courage enough, it was too late. The world had been broken and there was nothing I could do to fix it.

They say “Never forget.” But people do. People hoist flags and make speeches or just go, “Oh, it’s nine-eleven. That was so sad.” And they go on. They forget.

But September 11th is STILL HAPPENING to people. It’s still happening to me, too. I will never be able to honestly look at my life and know in my heart that it was all okay. Because September 11th scared me off a hill where I believed I was born to stand, and that future was lost.

I love my life. I love the people in my life. I am not usually sorry for the choices I made; indeed, being in this life has given me opportunities and friends and chances I never would have found otherwise and I wouldn’t give them up for anything. But on any September 11th, two painful days after my birthday, I can feel the difference. The difference of what I could have been. Of where I could have gone. Of the other work I could have done. Of a time I put my head down when I could have stood up. Because who knows what might have changed and whose lives might have been spared if I had been there?

On September 11th, 2001, heroes shone bright against hate and evil. And I was too busy being numb and shocked and scared and lost to join them. I didn’t hug anyone else. I didn’t help. And I went on to not help. I went on to evade the hard work of making things right rather than digging in. It took me several years to analyze that day and what I did right and wrong, so I could teach myself to do better next time. So that I can be one of the helpers, and not one of those needing the help in the moment of crisis.

But I also never forget that I went on to become what I am because I had that luxury. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t have that choice. It wasn’t just my perceptions of the world that died in the aftermath of that day; it was my perceptions of myself. And all of that is completely worthless compared to the lives lost worldwide. I may have my own memories and feelings to deal with, but I will never, ever forget that my feelings are NOTHING to the true harm that came to the world that day and every day since.

 

So on any September 11th, you’ll find I lapse silent throughout the day. I get melancholy. I have trouble laughing or relaxing. I retreat and stop reaching out. I have a small downswing into depression.

It’s the day so many, many lives were ruined forever, and not just in NYC or the Pentagon or on Flight 93.

It’s the day fear spread far more quickly than a wildfire, and it was followed by pain and violence that has never since let up.

And it’s the day my dreams died and were replaced with a profound awareness that nothing I ever did with my life, no matter how spectacular or mundane, would ever make the world right again.

Forget September 11th, 2001? How could I?

Its shadow still falls all over my life, even on the brightest days. And I’m just a nobody in the Midwest who DIDN’T lose limbs or liberty or loved ones.

So when you remember 9/11? Don’t just remember the towers and the planes. Remember the people in other countries whose lives have been torn up. Remember every person who ever looked up in the sky of NYC and felt like running and hiding. Remember every person in every country who felt like they would never be safe again because of their heritage or their religion or their culture. Because 9/11 happened to us all.

Never forget that.

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Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony

In the great tradition of me being me, here’s me liveblogging the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics 2016.  I’m not going to weigh in at this point on anything political surrounding the Olympics, not now, anyway.  I just want to enjoy the opening ceremony as it is presented.

So, here we go!

How many words start with ‘C’ that Matt Lauer can squeeze into one opening line? Let’s find out!

Can’t even get through the opening monologue without referencing shit in the water.  Going to be one of THOSE nights.

Running Jesus Tally (how many times have we seen the statue?) = 4

Commentary about the copy being read by whoever it is that should clearly be narrating a Nat Geo special on hippos and whales living in harmony or something.

Running Jesus Tally = 6 7 8

Eagle on your hat, huh?  Way to represent, USA.

Michael Phelps is adorable.  He just is.  Also, ears.

Marina: I never watched Olympic swimming until he (Michael Phelps) made a splash.
*Throws everything*

Okay, photobombing the interviews is EXCELLENT.  Good job, bored US athletes.

Running Jesus Tally = 9

Dude.  Costas.  What the fuck is on your table?  Mutated ashtrays?  A blue cabbage run amok?  The fuck?

Kinda digging the song for the opening here.  Though getting dizzy from all this top-down filming.

Running Jesus Tally = 10.  Also, top-down Jesus looks a little phallic.  Or a big phallic?

The metal sheets doing patterns are nifty.  I don’t know what they are supposed to symbolize, but they’re neat.  The costumes are probably murderously hot, though.  Go dedicated volunteers.

I LOVE THE ANTHEM.  HOLY CRAP.  BEAUTIFUL.

But how many verses does it have?  Just asking.

Also, I am NEVER watching the Olympics without being able to fast-forward the commercials ever again.  Seriously.

The water…the sand…the music…the greatest puppet crab thing ever…I have no words.  Beautiful.

Shiny green thing.  Totally mesmerized.

First Nations performers.  Wow.

Those ships are beautiful.  But Sarah has to make a “Mysterious Cities of Gold” joke and ruins the gravitas of the moment.  She’s good at that.  So am I, if I’m being honest.

Portrayal of the slave trade gets me kind of choked up.  The sound of the whip…yeah.

Also the transformation of the land.  Scars on the soul, scars on the Earth.

But also blending.  Building a new pattern out of different histories and cultures.  And representing them in waves and sets and song.  Gods we humans are a strange species.  We invade and we destroy and then we also create new worlds from the pieces we put together in new ways.  We can’t walk through the land without changing it, and then we change each other as we walk.

This is what happens when I’m left to this art and slightly psychedelic theater.

HOLY CRAP FORCED PERSPECTIVE.  HO. LY. CRAP.

Choreographer from cirque du soleil.  Yeah, that explains a lot.

Me: That is the steampunk-iest kite plane I’ve ever seen.
Sarah: It would fly.

Running Jesus Tally = 11 12 13 14

Honestly, the song outshines the supermodel.

Sarah: Can it be an Olympic sport to walk in those heels?
Geoff: No, it’s a super-power.  That’s why they call them SUPERmodels.*Enter discussion of 400m races in heels*

DANCING.  COLORS.  IMPRESSIVE.

Tiny go-carts!!!  I WANT ONE!!!

I like the passing back and forth of the music style.  The guys look like they’re enjoying themselves and the dancers are keeping both styles together.  And the lights keep…punching?  Do lights punch?  These ones on the floor do.

Fire!

This visualization of the divide between people and the conflict within politics and society in Brazil is really, really apt.  Chaotic and demarcated and always in motion.

Oh I don’t want to have to dance in that tinsel suit, though.  Warm.  And not cool.

During the dancing, we degenerate into a discussion of selfies during the ceremonies and the athletes entering which ends with a discussion of luge with a GoPro.  Someday the Olympics will not be on NBC; it’ll just be a bunch of live feeds from people’s helmets.

Nice fireworks, team.

Me: Michael Phelps and the USA Pips is not a good team name.
Eric: But it might be a good band name.

Statement on climate change.  HELL YES.

I’m having a very Wall-E moment here.  And Eve is voiced by Judi Dench.

Running Jesus Tally = 15

Looking at all the fruit, all I can think is the granadilla from Ecuador which we loved and I still miss.  I would pay anybody anything for a crate of those.  Seriously.  The fruit looks like fish eyes and tastes like heaven.  And I don’t believe in heaven.  Except in the form of granadillas.

Time for cake.

Running Jesus Tally = 16

The US gymnastics ladies looked like they were having fun.

MORE COMMERCIALS.  FAST FORWARD GO.

Parade of nations!

And first sign of a selfie stick.

Olympic glasses.  WHY?

And I don’t know about those arrow people.  Yes, it’s good for getting people going in the right direction, but…

Also, no egregious outfits so far.  That won’t last.

Barbados has a cool flag.

Hey!  I didn’t know Neil Patrick Harris was from Belarus!

The Benin outfits are nice, too.  I love the style.

Bermuda shorts.  Sigh.  But not surprised.

I dunno what that thing is, but it looks like a huge cheese grater.  Seriously.  What’s it for?

What the HELL was that weird shot of icky things in somebody’s green glove?  Looked like slugs or bird poop.  The hell?

One of the Colombians looks like Bill Nye.  Any other celebrities competing?

COSTA RICA YAY!

(I was an exchange student and lived in Costa Rica for a short time in high school.  It’s in my bones now and always will be, I think.)

I wanna know what’s up with the umbrella full of hats.  Seriously.  It’s in the background.  What is that thing?  Why is it there?  Are they confiscating hats?

Enter a heated debate about who will win gold when baseball is in the Olympics if the non-US players in the MLB played for their home countries.  I know next to nothing about baseball so I’m not involved.

The Spain delegation is clearly having a blast.  I’m glad.

New tune just before the US, huh?  Here we come.

Learning javelin-throwing from YouTube?  Yup, it’s a modern era.

Sarah: It looks like this is the year of fencing flag-bearers.
Geoff: I think some threats were made.  At the point of something sharp.

Indonesia…the hats.  Folded napkin things.  I…hope they mean something specific to that nation.  They don’t mean anything good to me.

The Italian flag-bearer has her birthday today.  Sarah cheers for someone having her birthday.

Oh.  Happy birthday, Sarah.  BEST WIFE EVAR!

Back to the parade of nations.

The talk about the Japanese population in Brazil sends Sarah on a hunt for details about why there is such a large Japanese population there.  This is how we fill up commercial breaks.  Except that I can fast-forward.  So I fast-forward and then pause.  It’s not exactly efficient.  But now we know about Japanese emigration to Brazil.

Mongolian flag-bearer uniform is super neat.

TIME TO SING THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD BY YAKKO.

FUCK.  I got stuck at Madagascar AGAIN.

Good job on the uniforms, Pakistan.  Norway, go learn from them.

And…cue the awkward silence as North Korea comes in.  The announcers literally don’t want to say anything.

And…cue the even more awkward Russian entrance.

It starts so slowly.  Now everybody has the ‘Nations of the World’ song in their heads and are very, very annoyed with me.  3 of the 4 people here have cursed at me in some capacity.  Good thing I like them all.

Syria.  Hell.  There’s the teariness.  We knew it wouldn’t take long.

Ah, that’s what those cheese graters are.  They’re for the seeds people will be depositing.  That makes slightly more sense.

Turkmenistan, that hat looks hot.  I’m sorry, flag-bearer.  Don’t die of heat, okay?

Turkey.  Fuck.

One of the things that matters most about the Olympics that has nothing to do with sports is the fact that we can come together as a single race of humanity regardless of our national origin and can celebrate that togetherness.  We can march with peace and excitement and joy and we can stand in a room with those who are our political or social or religious opposites.  We can face those we make war against and we can stand beside those we have failed.  It matters.  It’s just a symbol, but it’s also a truth.  A hope.  A future we may never reach but we must never stop trying to attain.

You can feel it if you close your eyes and let it find you.  It doesn’t matter if you’re ten thousand miles from the torch — you can feel the unity.  You can feel the hope.  You can feel the pride.  The tapestry of humanity at its shining best.  You can feel it and you can share in it.

And this is why we must never lose it.  We must never forget that we can come together and celebrate art and sport and diversity and effort and drive and courage.  We must hang onto this.

Because here comes the refugee team.  For them and for everyone like them.  They deserve a world like this, a world of togetherness.

And to you, refugees.  I am so sorry.

Okay, Brazil.  Let’s get this show on the road.

They still look like cheese graters, guys.  Or, as Geoff says, Daleks.  Dalek refrigerators, maybe.

Yeah.  You got me with the leafy rings thing.  You got me.

Running Jesus Tally = 17

Time for the IOC speech.  This guy is a lot more animated than the one 4 years ago.  Though Sarah notes the funny mumbly thing he does.  Hey, I’m not gonna judge.  If it were me, I’d be shaking too hard to hold onto the podium.

“We are living in a world of…mistrust, uncertainties. Here is our Olympic answer…living peacefully together, sharing their meals and their emotions.  In this Olympic world, there is one universal law.  We are all equal…we see that the values of our shared humanity are stronger than the forces which want to divide us.”  (As close as I could get typing along with sniffling)

“Dear refugee athletes.  You are sending a message of hope to all the millions of refugees around the world…You had to flee because of violence, hunger, or just because you were different…You are making a great contribution to society…We do not just tolerate diversity.  In this Olympic world, we welcome you as an enrichment to our unity in diversity.”

“We came into this world with nothing.  We will leave this world with nothing.  All we need is peace, love, and unity.” — Kip Kano

If you had any doubts about what really matters…well, now you know.

I feel like I should know the Olympic song words, but they never stay with me.  That children’s choir was great, though.

Well…those are some dancing things.  Squid?  Uh…seaweed?  I just…I have no idea.  What am I even looking at?  Some kind of foam Teletubbies that met up with the wrong end of a lawnmower?

Aw, who cares?  Dancing!

And the flame.  There’s magic in that, you know.  The fire carried from so far away that does not go out.  And yeah, I know that sometimes the touring torch goes out, but they bring a backup so that they can relight it from the source.  There’s power there.  And unity.  And continuity.  Eternity.  Even in something as fleeting as one small flame.

And here it is.

AND THAT SCULPTURE IS FUCKING AWESOME.  FUCKING BEAUTIFUL.

Running Jesus Tally = 18

Sarah says we have to close with the Jesus tally and fireworks.  Sounds like a good deal to me.

Good night all, and may the light and flame be with you always.

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I Who Did Nothing

I Who Did Nothing: A Hypothetical

Morning.  One foot out of bed, I scroll through Twitter for updates.  My radio app plays news while I brush my teeth and think about whether to drink coffee or tea today.

“Remember to vote today!”

Oh, yeah.  That’s today.  I’ll go later.

Maria’s on Instagram in a big way today, and Facebook is blowing up with the ridiculously bigoted thing some guy said in Texas.  Lunchtime comes.

I forget to go vote.  It’s okay.  The polls are open late.

It’s retro day on Pintrest and I look back at all the memories from childhood, the stories I loved.  Harry Potter – the Boy Who Lived, the one with the power to fight.  Hey, Bill Nye!  I think we watched him in elementary school.  Still trying to get people to do something about climate change.  Good for him.  I never got into any of the Power Rangers, but I remember the t-shirts.  Bob’s still obsessed.  Some things never change.  Lots of superheroes, too, from anime to comics.  Teams of friends who kick evil’s ass.  Now that I can get behind.

People don’t have to have powers to be heroes.  Everybody has something to offer and everybody can change the world.  Everybody has the potential to be anything they want.  Everybody working together always means we come out on top.

Aisha wants to meet for dinner after she goes to vote.  Right.  I still need to do that.

Exit polls say it’s close.  Twitter is blowing up with pictures of people with their “I Voted” stickers.

This one cool guy I follow has a new commentary video up.  It’s long, but I’ve got time if I vote after dinner and I could use a laugh.  The news has been so depressing lately.

Aisha looks upset.  “I’m so worried.  The only ones voting while I was there looked like they came straight out of the comments section.  What if they win?”

“It’ll be fine,” I tell her.  “You know everybody’s on our side.”

“Yeah.  But it doesn’t matter if they don’t vote.  Did you?”

“Uh, not yet.  I’ll go as soon as we’re done.  I had to watch this clip.  Hang on, I’ll show you.”

She yells it out the door when the Uber car drops me off.  “Don’t forget to vote!”

Right.  Where’s my polling place?

Why is it there?  Can’t I do this online?

Seriously?  I have to go stand in a line in some weird building I’ve never been to with everybody else?  God, that’s weird.  No wonder people don’t vote.

Aw, fuck it.  We’ll win.  They don’t need me.

My one vote won’t count anyway, not in this district.  Not with my neighbors.

My side will win.

It’s morning.

My side didn’t win.

I tweet “OMG!  How did this happen?”  Everybody I know is tweeting the same thing.

I’m scared.

I’m scared.

These people that won…what are they gonna do?

My friends.  Will they be okay?

I text Aisha.  “Are you okay?”

She sends a crying face.

“What can I do?”

“Did you vote?”

Oh shit.  I send “Sorry.”

“Then this is your fault.”

What?  No?  I didn’t do this!  We were supposed to win!

She texts again.  “You did this.  You let it happen.  You.”

I didn’t want it to happen.

I didn’t want this.

Quick.  Google “How to get out of the country.”  Text Aisha.  “I’ll help you get out before it happens.”

“It’s already happened.  And it’s your fault.  Don’t ever forget.”

“What do you mean?”

Aisha never replies.

The End


**Note, I am not attempting to blame ANYONE for the recent events of Brexit.  But there is truth to the point that it takes EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US to keep the “impossible” evil from happening.  I don’t care how busy or disaffected you are or how repugnant you find your “lesser of two evils” choice.  As Chuck Wendig said today: “Even if you think this is a contest of two lesser evils — well, I’d submit that a punch to the gut is better than BEING REPEATEDLY DUNKED IN A TANK OF ANGRY, SPHINCTER-SEEKING SCORPIONS.”  And I, personally, am not in favor of scorpions.  So please vote.

Quotation by the always-excellent Chuck Wending from: terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/06/24/you-want-trump-this-is-how-you-get-trump/

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