Two thoughts, on this day. One, far more succinct, comes from our 11-year-old. The other is from my messy brain.
He and I were talking about the actual events of 9/11/01 over dinner, and I was trying to explain how, even though we were attacked by a former member of the Saudi royal family who was living in either Afghanistan or on the edge of Pakistan, we invaded Iraq. He said “Hold on a second – hold up that fork.” I held up my fork, which is bronze, and somewhat ornate. He then went to the kitchen, grabbed a stainless steel fork of the same size. He said “It’s like you attack THIS fork for what THAT fork did. It doesn’t actually get revenge on the fork that did it, but they look kind of alike, and they’re used for the same thing, so you punish the fork you can get at, and you feel good about yourself.”
So, he’s ready to start a career in geo-politics.
For me? I’ve been thinking about helplessness. Because, in retrospect, thinking about how I felt as I watched the attacks on and collapse of the World Trade Center out my windows that morning 17 years ago, that’s what I truly felt. I’ve been thinking about how, in the end, that’s what we all feel, quite often. We are helpless to stop others from truly hurting us, because to be human is to be vulnerable. And no amount of bluster, revenge, or heavy funding of our military can truly protect a country from being attacked. Just as no amount of anger, rejection or pre-emptive attacking of other individuals can keep us from being hurt in the rest of our lives. We are all vulnerable, because, when we stop being vulnerable, we stop experiencing our humanity. We connect to one another through our flaws. That’s the way in – sure, sometimes through cruelty, but often through love. You cannot love someone who is perfect – only worship them. But you can love someone who is real – fallible, vulnerable, honest. And you can be loved if you are real. The old horse in the closet was right when he told the Velveteen Rabbit that, to become real, you had to be loved until your fur wore thin and your eyes lost their shine. It is only when we open our arms widest that we can hug – even though that’s also opening ourselves to be stabbed through the heart.
I’ve spent a lot of my time lately protecting my heart. Because I’ve been hurt, and scared. But until I embrace my fundamental helplessness to prevent bad things from happening, I cannot possibly embrace all of the wondrous jawns that are out there waiting for me. I don’t mean that we must stop being active, or allow ourselves to be entirely dependent – I teach my son how to navigate our city so he can do it on his own, not helpless but empowered. I teach him how to be aware, and what to be aware of. But I cannot be with him every moment of the day. He must be vulnerable to grow on his own. There’s no need to be truly careless and throw our hearts to every person we meet, but if we aren’t a little reckless with a person who we think we can trust, we’ll never have a truly great connection.
All of which seems so distant from 4 crews of terrorists attacking our East Coast with hijacked planes. I guess the connection is clearer in my head. When insanely angry people embrace violence without regard for their own safety, they can hurt us. We can put in safeguards, and remain cautious, but we will always be vulnerable. If we close up our borders, if we cross our arms over our chests and permit no one in, we cannot possibly grow and thrive as a country. We will become irrelevant, isolated, lost from the world at large. And then we will crumble. The most effective response to the attacks of September 11th was the immense kindness New Yorkers shared with one another on September 12th, 13th, 14th. We cannot prevent all tragedies, whether they be global or personal. But we can be righteous, loving, and kind to one another, and equally importantly, to ourselves, as we our respond to them.
I have to remind myself of this nearly every day. I guess I’m sharing it here because it makes it feel more real. Thanks for listening.