Of course I remember that day. When it actually happened, I was on my bike. I was a substitute teacher at Menaul School and was riding along the North Diversion Channel Bike Trail. At about University & I-40, it turns north and I'd take my mountain bike down this gravelly social path (it was way more fun to bounce down that than the paved path a little bit further) and then ride up University to Menaul then down Menaul to the school.
As I checked in I noticed everybody standing by a television in the office and that's when I got it. Two planes had crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, and a third had crashed into the Pentagon (I don't remember when I got the news about Flight #93). I was stunned, and the networks showing at first the plane hitting the south tower, then the endless repetition of the north tower collapsing then the south tower collapsing. It was confusing and I still can't get the image out of my head.
By about mid-day, the principal called the whole school together and tried to soothe every one. I know I needed soothing. The whole thing seemed surreal. At the time, I'd never been to New York and the image of the towers was mediated by television or movies. I wanted to understand it. I wanted to be able to explain it to the 7th & 8th graders as we watched the news reports in the classroom for the rest of the afternoon.
By the end of the day, I was emotionally drained. I was still confused, and it probably took a whole month for me to really grasp the significance. What seemed to be shaping up in mind anyway was the ungodly amount of death and destruction that was a part of this event and it was only just beginning.
We can certainly rationalize and justify, but no amount of either is going to bring back the 3000+ that died that day, or the innocent civilians we continue to kill in Afghanistan, or the innocent Iraqis, or soldiers just doing their jobs. The spectre of war...an almost malevolent spirit...was unleashed that day. And I know that my more liberal friends can argue about how we shouldn't have been surprised. That American foreign policy is more about empire than we're lead to believe. But nothing changes the fact that a lot of people who died did nothing more than show up for work. And nothing changes the fact that as a direct result we started bombing a country in Asia in an effort to close up terrorist training cells and capture/kill the masterminds and as a result have killed numerous people (no matter how hard we try to avoid it) that are doing nothing more than living their life.
So when I read the news, today, about us finally killing Osama Bin Laden, my confusion comes back. Yes, I'm relieved that we finally got him, happy even. But I'm also a little sad that as a species we still can't move beyond solving our problems violently. And I'm also a little bit sad that in all the YouTube videos, and news reports, we're still not connecting that part of the reason we are even meddling in the affairs of that part of the world is our addiction to oil. And as I navigate in traffic and cross busy streets and inhale exhaust fumes, I wonder if there is more that I can do. How do we break our addiction to oil? How do we do it responsibly? And I can't help but think that if a lot more of us would just get out of our cars a bit more often, try biking to work, taking the bus, walking our neighborhoods, we'd discover that living peacefully is possible, beautful, and will create the world we want to live in.
I'll see you on the streets.