Thursday, July 7, 2016

Visiting the One World Observatory

I was surprised at how emotional this made me. Going up the elevator I felt tightening in my throat, and several times more as we filed out to the entrance hall with the sliding windows and watched the slideshow projected on them. The strength of my reaction seemed disproportionate: nobody I knew was directly involved in the event or witnessed it personally; at the time, I had one friend attending Columbia, but he was unaffected. I had watched the event unfold on TV, but when I deemed that I was getting late for work, I turned it off and got in the car. At work, it was unusually quiet. Our office at the time was a huge single room with cubicles, and I could hear someone near the front weeping. I never found out who that was. A few days after the planes destroyed the buildings, the newspaper delivered a flag, printed on 12x18 light card stock. I put it on the mantel and felt strangely comforted by it.

I wouldn’t consider myself seriously patriotic. I was born here, I live here. I like to think I’m reasonably objective when comparing my country to others. There are countries more sane than the United States in a multitude of ways, and there are many countries that are far worse. The United States has not always been welcoming to both my race and me as an individual; I’ve had my share of racial slurs thrown at me, received the micro~ and macroaggressions that call me a foreigner, outsider, and/or second class citizen, been told to “go back” to a country I’ve only seen as a tourist. I’ve been expected to disavow others of my ethnicity because they are immigrants and I am not. And I'm well aware that Asians in other states have it worse. But in the end, I’m an American, I live here, I love California’s weather, diversity, culture, food, and its high proportion of intelligent people, and I’d find it very hard to give up that winning combination.

We walked around the observatory looking over Manhattan and beyond, looked straight down onto the former footprints of twin towers, now fountains waterfalling over black stone, inward to a square dark hole in the center. It’s symbolically beautiful and appropriate.

I think what makes me emotional, what makes me mourn, is not the event itself or the lives lost there, but how it changed this nation so much. We’ve had acts of terrorism before -- from Timothy McVeigh, the Army of God, animal rights terrorists, and the Jewish Defense League, just to mention events in recent memory. But 9/11 indelibly associated terrorism with Muslims, Islam, anyone from the Middle East regardless of their religion, and even any bearded, brown skinned person. 9/11 created the TSA and its security theater. 9/11 divided the United States. One side believes fear is justified, that the nation is under attack, that the Christian religion is under attack, and any measures to protect the nation are necessary. The other group sees terrorists as small groups of people using their religion as a justification for violence, and do not represent Islam as a whole, just as the Westboro Baptist Church, which uses Christianity as an excuse to be as offensive as possible, does not represent all Christians. The United States is no longer the land of the rough and ready, optimistic people who throw in a helping hand and get things done, people who believe every problem has a solution. It seems decreasingly possible to compromise; people now insist on expressing their views, sometimes at the expense of others. Everything has spin. People seem far more inclined to put others in a box in order to more easily dismiss views they don’t agree with.

I’m just describing my thoughts/concerns. I don’t have answers or solutions for how to get our mojo back. But I do feel we have to get back to seeing our country as belonging to all its citizens and those who want to become citizens -- not just those who ascribe to our own views. We have to find the middle, the common ground; rate our individual desires by importance and be willing to let go of the less important ones in the interest of unification.