September 11, 2009

Eight years ago...

I wrote an essay about the events of 11 September. I don't have to tell you what events those were, or where they happened, or what happened afterward, as I believe that anyone who is on the Internet in 2009 has to be quite aware of what they were (and are). It's hard to believe it has been eight years since Ini and I sat in a living room with five telephones between us, waiting for them to ring or making calls to try and account for all of our loved ones who were involved in the situations that unfolded that day. It's hard to believe that those we did lose have been in the West that long, or that our naive thought that "we'll get the people who did this" was just that naive.

Eight years in, grief is different. It is no less sharp or painful; it hurts the heart no less than it did at the moment it arrived. But we have learned to live with this grief now. It is no longer the unwanted guest that no one knows how to deal with, but the expected party-crasher that simply will not leave. We have gone from trying to push our grief out of our minds to learning all of its angles in an effort to make peace with it, to try and keep it from spreading any further than it already has. Like the events of that day in 2001, our grief cannot be undone, it can only be accepted, reluctantly.

Acceptance requires perspective. We should never forget what happened that day, nor should we allow our grief to be lessened simply because we are more comfortable with it. At the same time we cannot allow it to rule our lives or to skew our perspectives of everything else. Other tragedies, other griefs, have come before and came after, and will continue to come. This one event, while significant to some, is less significant to others. Its relative importance must neither be understated nor overstated. We can neither pretend it never happened, nor pretend that the repercussions and responsibilities that happened after are not as important as the initial events of 11 September 2001.

I'm using a lot of big words, so I'll stop.

Do not forget the past. Do not forget those in the beautiful West, who were killed or who gave their lives trying to save others. Remember them at this time and every time you remember your Akhu. Remember all those who have died since, in the military actions designed ostensibly to punish those responsible. Remember all those who have suffered from religious persecution or other persecution simply because one group allows its own grief to overshadow the grief of another group, and use it as a lesson in your own life. Your grief is yours, and while you know it better than someone else's, it neither cancels theirs nor renders theirs less important. Both are evils we face, and there is greater evil in forgetting this.

I made the audacious statement in my initial letter that the gods were weeping when I entered my shrine. While that statement made its way into a commemorative volume about the tragedies, it was taken there out of context and caused some controversy. I didn't believe that the gods of ancient Egypt were specifically crying over one incident that ultimately is overshadowed by many other tragedies past and present; it wasn't a patriotic sort of "even my gods are sad for my country" comment. I believed then, and I still believe now, that the weeping I heard was not necessarily for the dead and wounded and lost and for the pandemonium of the bombings that happened that day. I think that They wept for what was to come, when even eight years later, the swath of death and destruction cut by the forces set into motion that day continues to spread.

I think about the news we got this morning that three platoonmates of one of my students in Iraq were killed by a roadside bomb. I think about the handful of students I have in Afghanistan, most of whom I can't even get in touch with because they are moving around in dangerous places with no way to contact home. I think about the people I talked to in Egypt last year, about the Muslims I know here in the USA, who face even more difficulties in the world simply for the colors of their skins or the name of their God. I think about the burden on the shoulders of our world's leaders to deal with terrorism in all its forms, and the things they end up having to do to try to cope with that burden. These are the things that make my gods weep. These are the griefs we must learn to live with and lessen wherever and whenever we can, no matter who we are. These are the lessons of the past and the present.

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