Is it the odd juxtapositions that dilute the meaning of important events? The solemn observances at Ground Zero yesterday contrast so jarringly with the drunken stupor that Claire Berlinski encountered last night in Georgetown. How to square the excitement of the start of college football with emotions so poignantly expressed by James Lileks yesterday? “I don’t think I’ve ever been more than a second away from the anger I felt on that day,” wrote Lileks. And by God, I’ve been in that same frame of mind since that awful day 9 years ago.
And yet September 11th is a day of celebration for the Carter family. On that day, 25 years ago, my first child was born. I spent yesterday with my son Benjamin, his girlfriend Peggy, and other family and friends. It was a rollicking fun day, beginning with a round of putt-putt played, as we found out, at the same place and on the same course, as the Obama family played just a few weeks ago during their brief stay on Panama City Beach. I asked the attendant, who had been working when the First Family showed up, how the President scored. “They all got the same score,” he answered laughingly. I guess they spread the points around as readily as they spread our property.
From putt-putt to bowling later in the day, to shooting pool, to laughing and celebrating the wonderful ways in which this young man, Benjamin, has enriched all our lives, the day was a wonderful recognition of the very best of American life and yet,….and yet, there it was, unspoken. Perhaps it’s because the juxtaposition of two major events in our personal lives; the birth of a beautiful child and the savage mass murder of our citizens just don’t belong together. Besides, Ben was here first and he certainly wasn’t consulted about the date of the attacks. So we compartmentalize. In the case of our family, it’s necessary. But when a nation compartmentalizes something of this magnitude, is that healthy?
Last night, returning home from the birthday celebration, I sat down with my wife and again watched video footage of the indecent and inhuman assault of 9 years ago. The awful roar of the engines. The sheer speed and savage finality with which the second plane full of innocent people slammed right through a building full of more innocent people shakes us to our souls to this day. Watching the images of people falling, their arms and legs flailing about in those final horrific seconds of life, the anger was just as fresh in my mind as on the day it happened. It was more than anger, that day. For me it was fury.
James writes, “There’s nothing virtuous about anger, and you sound mulish and stubborn if you say you don’t particularly want to heal. I just don’t want to.” While I don’t want to heal either, I’m not sure that I subscribe to James’ statement that there is nothing virtuous about anger. Anger that day, prompted my friend, Bob Lee, to call within minutes of the attacks and volunteer to come out of retirement and go back on active duty to fight the bastards. Anger prompted me, fresh back from a tour in the mid-east, to volunteer for another deployment to help kill as many of them as possible. They didn’t grant Bob’s request, but thankfully they granted mine.
Could it be that the more we lose touch with that anger, the more we compartmentalize? And the more we compartmentalize, the more we lose focus on an enemy that remains at war with us? To James, to Americans, to friends of freedom everywhere, I respectfully suggest that we cling to the anger, and never forget what we felt that day. For to lose those emotions is to risk losing the stomach to engage the fight that is still being waged against us. We lose sight of that salient fact at our peril.