"The opposite of war, isn't peace...it's creation." - from "La Vie Boheme", written by Jonathan Larson, from "Rent" (The Musical)
It is difficult to not remember the millisecond by trillisecond play by play of the moments when the unimaginable happen. Since the days of this birth, there are probably three events that come to mind quickly - the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger (1986), the shootings at Columbine High School (1999), and the fall of the Twin Towers (2001). Inevitably, at least one person is now ramped up and saying to themselves under their breath, "How can the first two ever be compared with the third...why you little...?!#@!"
There are other flashpoints as one puts a bit more thought into it, remembering what one is want to forget over the years because the images are not as resolute and entrenched into a place in the mind where instant-on recall exists...the Berlin Wall opening up (1989), the Branch Davidian siege and standoff (1993), the Oklahoma City bombing (1995).
Go back a little farther (before these eyes were cast upon the world of iron or just after when memory is not yet so solid in sway) and there are those that talk of "where they were" when John Lennon was shot (1980), landing on the Moon and Neil Armstrong's foot (1969), the assassination of Kennedy (1963), and the fears of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).
The list is pick-and-choose for certain. We could each add and subtract to the tally, but all that would occur therein is to multiply our divisions. The fall of the Soviet Union might be on there, the night we watched the US go to war (the first time into Iraq), the night we watched Voyager pass Neptune, the burning-up of Space Shuttle Columbia. Eventually the list starts to get cloudy, the inevitability of ranking one against another starts to happen. But, what makes one event more memorable or more worthy of being remembered...
What one ought realize in this exercise of listing (and please, do read that in the definition of one tipping, beginning to lean over, potentially drowning from the weight) is that the number of horrors, far outweighs the number of...
And that is where the loss of word, singular, comes in.
For what is the opposite of horror? And whatever the word, why are there so few events that compare to the horrors we've lived the past fifty years? Where is a world who asks what great things can we achieve, rather than what is it that we need to destroy?
Senior year of high school, the small thirteen inch television on in the bedroom even though my folks were certain that slumber had long ago come to these eyes. The USA Network (woohoo - look at the irony in that minor detail of the story - almost too cliché to include but done here for sake of illustration) was showing Quantum Leap. Our time-traveling protagonist winds up in a biker gang and meets somebody named Jack Kerouac.
Having no Google at the time (we used to call the library and ask a librarian to research something for us) it was in school the next day when there was one teacher who would certainly provide the answer (and convince me why it was worth finishing the school year and not instantly hopping on the road and traveling this country). Dr. Melzer gave me the quick synopsis of On The Road and Dharma Bums and sent this student off to Borders after school. The book was read in one sitting that night (ignoring all of the homework that there inevitably sat in the knapsack) and that very book adorns a shelf here today, with a number of travels and dates and locations written in numerous hands, all along the inside back cover.
It took until after freshman year of college for four of us to hop in the two door Chevrolet Cavalier and tag thirteen thousand miles in ten weeks, twenty states, numerous national parks, and an uncountable number of people. People of all sorts, types, languages, destinations...yet all with essentially the same dreams and hopes and desires. That's the thing we learn from travel most of all...the similarities in cadence regardless of the location.
And what became known then, and is still known now, wrapped around these shoulders all the time but especially on these nearly-fall nights when the temperature drops and the concerns of heat begin again, is that this country is the place for this heart to beat and for these words to launch. For of all the places on the Earth, it is here they are most needed. The explanation being that it is silly to forget that this unity of state was founded, first and foremost, by those who called for dissent from an over-reaching and arch-ruling regime that sought to silence all...not only dissent...but all dissonance, cognizant and sentient in all denizens...in the collective voice of the people.
This country was founded by social anarchists and mystical anachronists. Don't ever forget that, when each to each speaks and tries to impart opinion as truth. For the last time this occurred the country split in two, and brother killed brother, one hundred times over. Is that really what we wish for again? Is an opinion, granted under the guise of knowing that it is safe to speak one's mind, worth cascading into the abyss of hating one's neighbors? Each of these sentences that rolls out the fingers and finds life not on the cutting room floor has to pass muster of such early morning examinations so that they may lead to the hope that everybody answers "No!" to that question.
Out on the roads of this country, where one can speak to random people, at roadside diners, from the scrambled of dawn to the bunned of dinner and through the never-closed plate of home fries that one finds at Spaceway...is where freedom is found. In the places where you ask the person walking past on the sidewalk, "Hey how are ya?" and the other invites you to sit down over coffee to find out...is where freedom is found. When time is not scheduled and cubicled and what is squared is but the cliff faces of Mesa Verde or the rentable cabins at Yosemite...is where freedom is found. And all of this, to get up and "Go, go go" as JK would say, is disappearing under the weight of gas prices and fear and the structure of birth-school-work-marriage-kids-retirement-death.
Freedom is not in seventy-two inch televisions or schisms under the guise of political discourse or beliefs that one belief is better than another belief or the pretense that by pretending one is emblazoned with some hither-to informed knowledge to which the rest of us are not party and parcel to. There is no justification for the hypocrisy of smirking candidly to the camera and chalking it up to lying by omission rather than actually stating a mistruth.
What, then, are we attempting to achieve, through the horror and the violence and the hatred? In other words, how do we explain to our children that there is a whole faction of the world who would rather spend more money and time and energy and focus on killing people and blowing up buildings than finding a cure for cancer? Regardless of one's beliefs (be it political, religious, ideological) there has still yet to be a clear, concise, justification that doesn't come from a place of bias. What happened to the willingness to view the world through clear, not tinted, glasses? When we confuse identity with being identifiable, when life's viewing stations are no more open than to be either for us or against us, when the willingness to listen dissolves into simply waiting for one's turn to speak...it is no wonder that one's opinions begin to fester themselves as actual truths when embedded in the neuro-pathways of the smoldering brain.
The word that initially comes to mind (as an opposite of horror) would be, potentially, achievement. It is a close cousin (and yes there is a willingness for them to kiss) to the quotation that opens this column. Let us put our minds together, dream dreams bigger than the most grandiose dreams ever imagined...for what is better? Look where it once got this county - "Straight to the moon, Alice!"
What might be scary, then, is when we pause here and ask ourselves...what would be a similar achievement, that would gather us all around the digital campfire, to celebrate what we are capable of reaching? What frontier must we set out upon? There is no cynicism that will lead me to believe that assassinations in far off countries ought count as rallying points and moments of excitement around which our marshmallows gather, regardless of the evil that may or may not have been set at bay.
Beyond this, it is far more frightening that there is no ready and resolute answer to these questions, for it is not comfortable to this tale of a rooster to call for change for change's sake, without offering up a better option, suggestions of possibility, heralds of joy. It is a weakness in this outpouring, for certain, but it is important, sometimes, to just let the feeling flow in hopes that it sparks an intuition.
This piece of writing on these pages, weighs a bit more insular than preferred and a tad more nationalistic (albeit in an inverse sense) than usual, as the "we" that gets referred, here, is only to us, on this soil, as "Americans". But to focus on such a section of humanity is necessary because that is exactly the problem - our lives, under stars and stripes, red white and blues (draining out through the delta, 'tis true) have become framed through the looking glass of one day, one event, one horror, of eleven years ago. Why? It is not unlike a family, gathering at each funeral, as elder after elder go on to their next destination, and those who remain say to each, "We ought to get together at times other than funerals"...yet never do.
All of the above, all of this thought, incomplete and not in search to compete, is to say this. Today, let us pledge to refuse to let an act of catastrophe, and the hate that it birthed, be the defining event of this era. Before we turn to ashes and dust - it is imperative, the most important thing imaginable - that our legacy be not the memorial of today, but the anniversary and celebration of tomorrow and some act so great, so epic, so unimaginably filled with joy instead of horror, that all else pales in comparison to the light such actions entail...so as to blot out the yearly reverberations than bring each calendar to a stop. These bones and this breaking body will not fall, must not fall, cannot fall, ought not sleep, until so much has been changed, until so many have been nurtured, until so few remain angry...until there is no possibility other than an event of such magnitude of creation dawning forth...so that bells will toll, eternally, that the world and all us people upon it, now and especially to follow, cannot fathom that we ever have lived in any other way but peacefully.
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