Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Imaging Future Hard Conversations

T won’t be 21 months old for a few more weeks; we are years out from having conversations about current events and ideological issues.  But as I’ve been processing the death of Osama bin Laden and the subsequent reaction around the world I can’t help but think about how I want to talk to my son about all of it.  I want to be as honest with him as possible about what happens in this world.  And I want to talk to him when I see our fellow citizens engaging in activity that is confusing.  I also want to be honest with him about my own flawed reasoning and reactions based on my personal experiences.  If he were older I’d tell him this: 

September 11, 2001 is obviously a loaded day for all Americans and I am no exception.  I believe that bin Laden was an evil man, that we were at war with him, and that it was right to kill him.  I believe that the world is a better place without him.  But I can’t help but chafe at the glee, the celebration that many Americans delighted in.  We go to bed early so we didn’t hear the news Sunday night.  Part of my morning ritual is listening to Morning Edition in the bathroom, so yesterday I learned what happened while I showered.  One of the first clips I heard was of people celebrating at Ground Zero late Sunday night.  And it nauseated me.  Granted, a lot about Ground Zero nauseated me when I lived in NYC.  I couldn’t help but hate the tourists who had their pictures taken in front of the gaping hole in the ground with huge smiles on their faces.  It felt like the photos were just checks off of a list of hot stops they got to show their friends they visited.  There was little solemnity or respect for the dead.  With the vendors selling their gaudy Twin Towers memorabilia and the tourists grateful at the lucky coincidence that Century 21 is located just across the street (talking about killing two birds with one stone!) I avoided the area as much as possible.  And yes, I know my condemnation of those tourists isn’t fair or reasonable.  It’s ugly and full of misdirected rage.  Obviously I haven’t come to terms with my anger and upset and horror surrounding that day.   

When I’d walk by the site I’d try to keep my mind blank so I wouldn’t cry, but I was unable to stop playing scenes from  my brief history in the area in my head.  I’d think about hanging out with my dad in the WTC Marriot when he was in town, or the night Z and I took him to Windows on the World.  I’d remember the goofy socks I’d bought Kevin for Christmas one year at the GAP in the basement mall, or how I’d time myself as I tore through the lobbies cutting through the center to my boss’s apartment to deliver her mail on my way home from work when she was on maternity leave.  I remembered being so excited when we found the bridesmaids dresses for my wedding on sale at the Tahari in the World Financial Center.  Or how my mom bought me some clothes at the Brooks Brothers across the street when I stared temping after I graduated from college.  And then I can’t help but remember how that Brooks Brothers was used as a temporary morgue in the days after the attack.  It took about two years for me to be able to walk in there again so I could buy Z the perfect present.  I’d think about those places and wonder where the people who worked in them were, which of them died.  I’d think about how most of the locations don’t exist anymore and how hard that was for my brain to process.  Mostly I’d think about how stupid I had been before the attack, how unsuspecting and naïve and sure that nothing like it could ever happen.

So clearly my opinions are tainted by my experience.  But I don’t think that cheering was the right call.  I was depressed by a lot of what I read on social networking sites.  Quoting Team America?  I loved that movie, can’t get the song “America, Fuck Yeah!” out of my head years after seeing it.  But, frankly it embarrasses me to see the irony of the song disregarded.  I wonder what the South Park guys think of their work being co-opted by the very flag wavers that they were mocking.  Celebrating the might and power of the USA when it took nearly a decade to find this guy?  That seems like a joke to me.  Especially because he wasn’t striking at our military prowess that day, he was striking at our core beliefs.  He wanted to make us hypocrites.  He wanted us to ignore our values as Americans and torture terrorists to find answers, he wanted us to selectively disregard Habeas Corpus, he wanted our citizens to distrust and persecute fellow Americans who were Muslims, he wanted to prove to the world that our ideals can’t hold up against attack.   He wanted to make fools out of us, to show we weren’t really what we professed to be.    

The results of his attack have been mixed and I don’t really feel qualified to address them intelligently, but still I am proud to be an American.   And I want to celebrate the parts of this country that are great.  I’d be proud if we would celebrate our joy at being citizens of a country that is built upon one of the most extraordinary documents ever written, the Constitution.   I understand the desire to feel unity, especially when so much of the political rhetoric is so fractured.  But there is nothing connected to September 11th that makes me feel like celebrating, even the death of bin Laden.  I feel a huge sense of relief at his death, but I do not feel like whooping and cheering.  Again, I’m glad he is gone.  I think it was right to kill him.  I even think it was a victory of sorts, but I also think it is a sober occasion.  One in which we should honor those who died and remember the terrible things that happened that day and feel grateful to the amazing men and women who are working to protect us overseas every day.    

So yes, I’d tell T something like this, I’d tell him what I felt.  And then I’d ask what he thought. 

So how about some pleasant pictures to lighten the mood?  We put in 3 fruit trees last summer and I was worried the never ending winter would crush the life out of them.  But the two that are supposed to be flowering...are flowering!  Maybe we'll get a few cherries and peaches this year! 

We found out these are called checkered lilies.  Hopefully my sister-in-law with her mad photography skills can take pictures of them some year because they are off the hook awesome.  And checkered.  Really.  Weirdest flower I've ever seen. 

Yes, Z wears this hat in public when it rains.  Seriously. 

Sadly, T has figured out how to get the bib off.  The good thing is he looks hilarious while he's doing it. 

And this is what T looks like when he is in the middle of saying, "I pooped!"



  1. Karen, I had a very similar reaction to you -- I'm glad that bin Laden was brought to justice, and beyond impressed at the details emerging about the team of Navy SEALS that carried out the operation. Talk about the best of the best.

    But seeing the celebrations at Ground Zero and outside the White House has left me feeling really uncomfortable. Because I remember trying to make my way from midtown Manhattan back to my apartment in Queens on 9/11 and not knowing if we were still under attack. And I remember how I felt watching the news that day and in the following days showing Al Queda supporters celebrating the attacks that killed thousands of Americans. And I worry that this victory, while just, will embolden those who want to hurt us and renew their hatred for us and our way of life.

    I'm incredibly curious about when 9/11 will enter Gavin's consciousness (he's only 3 now), and what he'll ask and how I'll answer.

  2. Karen,

    It was just about bedtime when we got the call to turn on the tv. I had to explain some of what happened to Sammie in order for her to know who had gotten killed (a bad guy) and why she had to be quiet. Obviously harder for a four year old to understand, and hard for us to know what exactly to tell her. My hubs went ahead and told her that this bad guy had blown up some mommies and daddies offices while they were at work, just for no reason. I pictured her freaking out when we left for work the next day, but she didn't, thank goodness. While we watched the party outside the white house, there was silence inside our house. We didn't whoop or holler. The same thing when I visited Ground Zero. There was no smiling. I took a picture of the flag hanging and reread the timeline of what had happened. It was a very quiet spot, for NYC. I'm glad there are others who aren't flatly one-sided, and I hope that some people in the middle east will see those of us who aren't jumping, hollering, and using this an excuse to party.

    THere was a moment when Sammie seriously thought Obama was killed, even as we watched him on tv, and asked worriedly, "Obama died?" And hopefully she'll listen to us talk to each other and soak up the solemnity we give to all life.