Untitled 2002-04-28

I spent some time earlier this evening allowing myself the pages of the first of two volumes I quietly purchased from the local comic shop Friday night. I believe the series title is "9-11: Artists Respond", and whether more volumes to the graphic collection yet exist I do not know. I had a few thoughts to the variety of reactions I saw there.

One was a feeling that I still need to experience the tragedy. My dealing with it feels very incomplete, somehow. I still feel I want to be there, digging through the rubble. I want to be in my city, and mine out of it what is left of the emotional unity that came in the aftermath. I want the moments of profound awareness to linger. I want the days of candlelight and penetrating reflection not to have faded back to real life so quickly as they have, or at least as they have for most of us.

Perhaps it is because I feel the power of this catastrophe was never rightly wielded. The powers that be snatched up what they could; they skimmed off the muck of it and shaped it into isolationism and hatred and angry scapegoat bounty hunts. There were some armies of light that rose briefly, or even enduringly, in smaller ways. There were the donations, the benefit functions, the memorials and vigils. There were those who spoke out amidst the angry and the paralyzed and the saddened, crying for the larger issue, begging for the solution, imploring people to raise their minds to the true nature of the problem. There were even some who succeeded in ways. But the immense potential of that fleeting time, the few days or weeks that followed that dark day, feels horribly empty and unused to me.

I think that I, and so many thousands or millions or maybe even billions like me, wanted - or needed - to believe that this day was going to change things. We wanted to see the blood of so many and the breaking of hearts that crashed like a tidal wave across our humanity purchase a new world, a new way of thinking, and not merely a shadow of sorrow and pain, gradually growing stale and receding into our soil like a dilute poison, that would turn our culture ever morso into our enemies' twisted vision.

We needed to believe that this would awaken something, or that it would bring some long-ignored truth into the light. We needed to know that we would rise, not in vengeance or in some righteous quest against "terrorism", a safely conceptual and faceless enemy, but in introspection and outreach.

The patriotism of rebuilding our nation and defending our freedom was certainly not lacking. What did not fall readily from us with our tears was drawn from us in an almost revolutionary defiance, and what did not come then was squeezed from us by our leaders in the guise of pragmatism, wrung out of our freshly desparate want for security. It flowed from our doors and into the streets, almost a flood in our cities and towns and villages. It was subsequently slathered like so much syrup over media and advertisements and political causes, rallying angry ants to cover themselves in it, to gorge empty fearful souls on its bittersweet nourishment... and stick.

But I yearned for the true patriotism. I waited for the purer revolutionary defiance, the drive that brings citizens to rise, to stand high and look above the sea of uneasy answers that is propped up before their eyes, to realize that something needs so badly to be done. I prayed that the candle flames and somber but thoughtful words of our people would become a vessel for the democracy and pride of a nation ready to extend its hands over the walls of government and politics and fear and be truly strong, and show its heart to the world, wounded but full and powerful and bared in undying courage.

Courage. Sacrifice. Marching unfalteringly into pain and loss and death for a higher good. This is what we admire in the firefighters and police who lost their lives under tons of steel and concrete. This is the value conveyed in the stories we try to reconstruct of the passengers of an airliner we can only suppose did not reach its target. These men and women, who grace our newspapers and TV screens, who have become a new image of heroism and unselfish bravery in our nation, they were not settling into comfortable isolation on the day they were unexpectedly called. They did not sit and watch from a distance, or concern themselves with protecting their position. They thought of their families and they thought of their future and they thought of their way of life, and then they strode into fury and flame and terrifying risk, and, as some of them most assuredly foresaw as they rose to their duty, they died.

And with their deaths, so I remain empty. It is for them, and for those that perished in fire high above the ground, and for those whose bodies were ground to dust in chaos and darkness, and for those who wandered in streets or cried through telephones seeking someone who will never be found, and for all of us who could only live onward in unspoken gray disbelief that faded into quiet devestation, it is for them, young and old, rich and poor, powerful and struggling, ambitious and contented, who gave their lives or their hearts that day, that I must wait.

With the passing days, the news reports, the government press conferences and diplomatic endeavors, the military campaigns, the economic ramifications, and the flashbacks and memories of millions of people, I notice as my ear seems always to bend in the hope of some evidence of the evolution that I await. The events of the world wash over me, and in all the present dischord I can only seem to feel the same familiar patterns of the century past.

So, my emotions confused, I turn back to the ocean of surprising hope I felt swelling deep beneath the solemn days that followed September 11, 2001. I hear all of our nation's claim, "We will never forget," and I wonder how deeply we will hold to this sentiment, not in national vengeance, but in individual strength and courage. And just now and again, amidst the inevitable distration of comfort and life, I find myself deeply compelled to somehow relive the pain and profundity of that day, perhaps in the hopes that others might be indulging in kind, and that soon, the tide will rise.

(c)2002 J. Mancuso