On the morning of September 11, 2001, I walked out of my music theory class to find several classmates sitting on a low brick wall, looking contemplative. I hadn’t heard the news of the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and what my friends told me sounded terrible but didn’t touch me the way I remember the death of John F. Kennedy did when I heard it, also after a morning high school class, in 1963.
Why not? I can only think that as a sheltered fifteen year-old, I hadn’t much experience in watching violence on the screen or in watching murderous behavior being broadcast on television across the nation and the world. I certainly had never observed it first-hand.
The thought of an American president being shot in the head as he rode in a car waving at his supporters struck me cold, as it did my schoolmates. We were herded to the football field to sit in the bleachers and listen to the principal try to explain such a horror. I remember feeling a despondency I’d never felt before but didn’t place the meaning of it.
I remember my daughter, aged 14, sobbing in her room because of the state of the world. She said she couldn’t dream of living past 21 because she couldn’t see it, couldn’t see humans making it through the devastation caused by humanity...how could there ever be a future?
Later in the evening, on Setember 11, I watched re-runs of the Towers as they slowly began their meltdown; as the buildings, convulsed into calcinated materials, spewed dust for miles; as fused and twisted metals turned the stately structures into a morgue; as humans stampeded for their lives in horrified disbelief; and as emergency professionals threw themselves into almost certain death. I stood with my hairs on end and pupils wide, knowing through cameras and wires and airwaves what my daughter knew so many years ago. What I knew at sixteen when I wrote my own take on the human condition on this planet: “We’re here to kill each other.”
Let’s face it. No one on this planet survives without killing something.
Can we save ourselves from ourselves? We are very good at being kind during an emergency. We smile and float through Sunday services as the angels would approve. We tell ourselves it’s our Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish—godly to be sure and somewhat human—duty to be kind and share what we know and teach our children the importance of love and tolerance and peace on earth.
Where do we begin? I’ve done my share of spewing angry indignation at the injustice of seeing friends and myself attacked and humiliated in my town. You’ve done your share of harm, whether through resentment, jealousy, greed, fear, insecurity, or simple exasperation of wanting change in your life.
Do we stop the horror by attacking each other, whether our own family or our president or a culture we don’t understand? By talking in corners about them, whoever they are, because they are different?
What happened on September 11 is no different from what we do to each other every day. We are good at hating, at criticizing,at thinking we know more and are better.
When we get together, we are better at our hatred, stronger in unison and capable of all of the horrors we’ve seen others do. It’s only a matter of degrees.
I am not the most brilliant, perceptive, loving r psychologically balanced person on the planet, but I see one thing very clearly. If we take the deepest, purest, most profound and infinite part of our humanity and decide to make peace, we may not conquer the innate killer-survivor in ourselves, but we might be able to put the beast to rest.