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The Honor and the Burden

talk of Evil and God demean the events of 9-11

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 04, 2002.

We enter the professional grieving season. September 11 comes around, and all the media is cheerfully exploiting it. In content and attitude, it has thus far wobbled between moving and nauseating, but that is to be expected.

Frontline, the PBS series that has traditionally been one of the best programs on television, ran a show last night on the supposed Spiritual Shock to the nation. I could barely contain my anger. It revealed a great deal about the media elite, which exists.

In truth, virtually all – and maybe all – the interviewees were people personally connected to the horror, absent the inevitable psychologists shilling for their line of work. Mothers who received phone calls from doomed children to say good-bye, people who walked out of the Towers seconds before the fall, people who witnessed victims who chose to jump rather than burn to death, people who saw their loved ones die on television. Traumatized beyond my ability to appreciate, nonetheless they do not represent the nation and do not stand for a spiritual paradigm shift, whatever that might be.

A big theme was the discussion of Evil, which I thought moronic. They trotted out Holocaust survivors who explained – convincingly – why they thought Evil as a noun exists. They trotted out priests and rabbis and Muslims and the Catholic firemen who publicly discussed their lack of faith in God, now, and women chatting about Angels who visited them after their loved ones' deaths, and provided a glossary of terminology for the numerous presentations of the scar tissue denoting a broken heart, a life shattered.

Where was God? was another motif. After murmuring around, the summations seemed to indicate that God was there, playing a role in all the good works being done, the heroism, etc.

We’re children. Individual after individual summoned his resources to describe his experiences and conclusions from watching the Towers fall, and it never seems to have occurred to any of them, or the producers, that although it was very grisly and terrifying it wasn’t a whole lot different from what the rest of the world endures daily. We lost three thousand people last September 11. But was it more horrifying for them than people in China who burn to death daily in crappy housing, or the thousands who die in overcrowded ferry boats in Asia, or the thousands who die in mob rioting or earthquakes in the night or mud slides in the Andes or a thousand and one other horrors that take place far away to people who don’t know how to perform when interviewed on television, who keep looking into the camera to beg for help or news of a loved one rather than maintaining that three quarter profile to suggest intimacy and truth instead of actually providing it. Who never get asked if Evil exists because they think it a stupid question.

It was horrifying and startling because it happened to us, is all. In the world’s disasters of that week, tallied, it may not even have been the worst one. Just the one with network headquarters down the street.

The people on the show kept trying to imply that somehow the hatred shown here was different than anything done before. That it required Gods and Devils to orchestrate this event because it involved some of us. So much easier than chatting about an Islamic culture of patriarchal sexual deprivation which provides thousands of young, ignorant, and impressionable young men likely to believe in martyrdom for indistinct future causes and/or very distinct and titillating immediate ones. Just like arguing about abortion is so much easier than chatting about sex education and birth control and who makes the decisions about them.

The causes and solutions to 9-11 are not deity related or religion grounded. I cannot but think that most Americans, to whom the day had no effect beyond that of an exciting mini-series, will eventually see this, if not admit it.

But bitter that must sound to those devastated people called to the television or window to see their spouses die, their children jump, their own lives devastated. And who have ever, on magnetic tape on their answering machines, the final and irrefutably brave words of someone who chose to call them in their penultimate moment. What an honor. What a burden.