September 12, 2001


Rowing practice was a mess today, for various reasons.

But I donŐt want to
write about it. After yesterday, complaining about rowing seems petty. I have no
problems with talking abut petty things, to keep life going on, or in taking joy
in tiny things, but complaining about minor irritations seems unworthy of the

From the TV and radio newscasters, and also from the people I
talk to, I keep hearing the same words and phrases, neatly packaged nuggets of
shock, grief, or determination. "Horrific." "Enormity." "The grim scene." "America
under attack." "We never believed it would happen here." "The worst attack since
Pearl Harbor." And over, and over, "We will get through this," as though we
had an alternative.

We do have choices, though. We can get through
this and become paranoid xenophobes who hate and blame or we can hang on to our
beliefs, applying the cornerstone of our ideals, "innocent until proven guilty",
even to those we suspect of the worst. And that, I hope, is what all those people
are saying when they vow to "get through this".

It may be that we're
all repeating the same phrases because we're a nation of sheep, but I don't think
that's it. The newscasters repeat themselves because they have to say something --
that's what they're paid to do -- and there's nothing else to say. The rest of us
have seized on those phrases because we have no words to encompass our shock and
so we repeat the words that resound though our airwaves, knowing others will
understand because they share the same grief and shock.

reason we repeat packaged phrases is because the deaths of thousands is too much
for us to grasp. God forgive us, we can shut it off when they're far away -- when
even more thousands die of earthquake in India or famine and disease in the
refugee camps of Somalia. But this is here and we can't ignore it and none of our
usual coping mechanisms will work. So we use the set phrases to package our grief,
to break it up into small enough chunks that we can begin to process

One thing I like about Jewish tradition that I think America as a
whole should adopt is that we remember our watershed events and we remind
ourselves of their lessons, over and over. At Passover, we don't just celebrate
our freedom from slavery. We remind ourselves that others are still salves, just
as we were. We remind ourselves that before we were enslaved, we were well-treated
in Egypt for hundreds of years -- we were "strangers in a strange land", and were
helped by our neighbors, and therefore we are required to do the same for
strangers in our land. Paying it forward is a Jewish concept, though not by that

And there are many lessons that were taught to Americans
yesterday, but here is one. This is what it feels like when thousands of us die.
The grief and the need to help overwhelm us. Next time it happens somewhere else
in the world -- when there is an earthquake or a typhoon or a war or an epidemic -
- we need to remember what this feels like and not choke off our grief, and our
urges to help only because it's happened to someone else.

Posted by dichroic at September 12, 2001 07:48 AM
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