Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Still Not Over It

On September 11, I usually just leave a photo, mention I'm still not over it, and say nothing else. But twelve years after the terrorist attacks upon the innocent people, mostly but not solely Americans, on planes, in New York City and in Washington D.C., I'd like to say why I'm not over it.

I'm not over it because I have deliberately kept a little flame of hurt alive in my heart in memory of 2,977 innocent people. And I word it that way because somewhere (probably online) I saw a T-shirt reading "I'm so over 9/11," like that was something to be proud of.

I'm not over it because I saw the towers fall, albeit the way most of us saw the towers fall, on television. I, however, saw it in public. Skiving off work, and envious of my then-boyfriend who was on a bicycle trip starting at Somerset County, PA, I went to the central public library. The library had a row of televisions hanging near the ceiling, and a rather large crowd of people had gathered to stare at them. So I did, too.

When the first tower fell, I started to cry. I did not think "Oh well, people across the world suffer, too. Oh well, time the U.S. learned what it is like. Oh well, blah blah blah." I thought that thousands of people were dying, horribly, right before my eyes. Mostly people who were Americans, like my dad. 

There's a fair amount of anti-American feeling in Canada; it's considered kind of cool and perhaps even necessary. But it all evaporated on 9/11. In Montreal, on 9/11, my brother overheard a French-Canadian youth say something like "Who cares? They're Americans" and the crowd around telling him to shut the heck up.

I think it is natural to feel sympathy with those closest to you, in terms of family, or neighbourhood, or ethnicity, or culture. It is meritorious to feel sympathy with people who have absolutely nothing in common with you, save humanity, but I don't think it is meritorious to trample all over your own to hug the exotic stranger. So I have no problem saying that my sympathies are more with ordinary Western people getting on planes or going to work than with, say, Afghan villagers. Also, I care more about Middle Eastern Christians than I do about Middle Eastern Muslims simply because they are Christians. Sue me. Most of the world isn't ashamed to put their own first; why should I be?

The invasion of Iraq annoyed me, and I'm proud Canada didn't get pulled into that, but 9/11 really hurt. 7/7 hurt, too, although with less intensity. The 2006 discovery that some young Toronto-area Muslims had tried to collect materials to blow up innocent Torontonians, sent me through the roof. I was in Germany at the time, and two days after my visit to Cologne, Muslim engineering students tried to blow up a train from Cologne. That also made me mad.

It made me so mad, I cannot think about Germany without thinking about Islamic terrorism. This is why my novel set in Germany is about Islamic terrorism. But because of whoever they are who are "so over 9/11", it is also about Western complacency.

I don't think we can afford to be complacent. Freedom isn't free, and Western Civilization will not continue just 'cause. We have a guarantee that the gates of hell will never prevail against Christ's Church, but Christ's Church seems to be doing a lot better in Africa and Asia these days. Whereas of course I love Christ and His Church best, I am also fond of European-founded Western Civilization, and currently it is under threat not only from the kind of people who hate music, kites and portraits but from, not to put too fine a point on it, stinking traitors and ignoramuses.

Update: Oriana Fallaci's The Rage and the Pride. Read it at least once in your life. It's by the bravest, noisiest European woman writer to survive the 20th century.


Domestic Diva said...

Ditto. Thank you.

Gregaria said...

Thank you!

Also, about that whole feeling worse for the people closer to you, I feel like, as Catholics, we're supposed to love everyone especially the strangers and the people we don't understand (as in the parable of the Good Samaritan) or our enemies (love thy enemy). What about those ideas?

Seraphic said...

As Catholics, we're supposed to love them, too. Not more. Just too.

Seraphic said...

Update on that: I think the Christian lady who found a burial place for the dead Boston Bomber did a good thing.

But I think the surviving Boston Bomber's teeny-bopper fan club... Well. I think there are way, WAY, W-A-Y, too many incidences already of women, young and old, putting their interest in sexy strangers above any loyalty to their nearest and dearest.

Charming Disarray said...

Thank you for this.

Antigone in NYC said...

Most of the world isn't ashamed to put their own first; why should I be?

Because we are the light of the world.

Cordi said...

Seraphic, thank you for this.

Seraphic said...

Mmm.... I wouldn't say the American Taliban was the light of the world, despite his Catholic baptism and upbringing.

Oh dearie dearie me. You've made me get out the Summa Theologiae. Urgh... I haven't even got my coffee yet.

Part I

Aquinas says that, out of charity, man ought to love God more than himself (II-II, 26.3), but himself more than his neighbour (II-II, 26.4).

We ought to love our neighbour's soul more than our own body (II-II, 26.5)--useful to tell pushy boyfriends.


We ought to love better "those who are more close to us" (II-II, 26.7), and here Thomas cites 1 Timothy 8: "If any man have not care of his own , and especially those of his house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."

WHOA! And here's stuff on our own countrymen: "Consequently this very act of loving someone because he is akin or connected with us, or because he is a fellow-countryman or for any like reason that is referable to the end of charity, can be commanded by charity, so that, out of charity both eliciting and commanding, we love in more ways those who are more nearly connected to us."

Furthermore, "we ought out of charity to love those who are more closely united to us more, both because our love for them is more intense, and because there are more reasons for them" (II-II, 26.8).

He goes on to say that love of parents and children is more stable than that of love of friends, and then to some secondary head-scratchers: father more than kids? mother more than father?

In short being the light of the world does NOT mean putting the good of foreigners before the comparable good of "those more closely united to us."

And this, I think, is a particularly salutary for those of us who have been made to feel that attachment to our own family, relatives, neighbourhood and, dare I say it, ethnic community, is damnable racism. Most people in the world, of whatever religion, do not think there is something wrong with caring MORE--and I'm not even talking material stuff, just affectionately, in their hearts-- for their own people than for others.

Seraphic said...

Part II

(Interestingly, though, Communism ideology tried to break this down completely, but failed. Poles, for example, will compete, argue and fight with other Poles, but should any foreigner say nasty things about Poland, Poles get collectively mad. And yet they are also really interested in and kind to foreign visitors.)

It is not racist but virtuous for an American to chant USA, USA, to raise his spirits and the spirits of the American crowd around him (as Oriana Fallaci noted--she wished Italians would yell I-TAL-IA places other than soccer stadiums.)

And in Germany I got reproved by a German Jesuit who thought I was being disloyal to my country by wearing a German football shirt. (He thought I was Irish; I explained I was Canadian, where soccer is... Er.... Sort of an afterthought.)

I noticed in Germany, by the way, a poor box for collecting money for the POOR OF FORMER EAST GERMANY. I was amazed. I couldn't remember the last time I saw a sign asking me to give money to Europeans. Always, always, always appeals for money are for Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, this German Jesuit church recognized also the poor almost at their very door, too, and admitted that sometimes people in A Poor Country look exactly like you and speak your language.

Anyway, "Which neighbour should I love most" is another theme of my novel--keeping in mind that my heroine is not a moral paragon. Nein.

Meanwhile, I think there is probably a natural law element in all this. I felt worse on 9/11 than I did when I saw the bombing of Baghdad and, before that, of Novi Sad (Serbia), though I deplored both. I felt worse on 9/11 than I did when I heard about the nuclear disaster in Japan--although the description of the Japanese calm and disciplined behaviour during the crisis inspired me with an almost envious respect for the Japanese.

And--perhaps a more telling comparison--I felt worse on 9/11 than on 7/7, even though Canada derives a lot of its identity from the UK and almost as much from asserting it is not the USA. But I think that this is because A) the USA is our next-door-neighbour B) my dad is American and C) the loss of life and destruction of property was so much greater.

I think Thomas would tell me that my loves are in the right order--and he would be pleased that I admired the Japanese for their virtue. But he would also tell me that feelings are all very well, but what have I PHYSICALLY done to relieve the poor lately?

That's a good question, Thomas. Perhaps I should look for an Edinburgh charity dedicated to helping out fellow foreigners down on their luck.

Iota said...

A though:

Personally, I don't think a T-Short with "I'm so over [insert tragedy]" has to be offensive/wrong. It might even be GOOD that it's provocative. Although it obviously might hurt to be provoked like that.

I remember when John Paul II was dying - me being Polish that was a big thing. Lots of people had a spiritual moment. But there was also a kind of collective hyperbole and romantic wishful thinking: suddenly we would be devoted to our late Blessed Pope's teaching, we would read his encyclicals, i.e. we would do the things we didn't do when he was alive. And all those young people (of whom I was one) would surely be the next great Catholic Generation.

Some people kept those commitments, some forgot, some never meant to make them - they just wanted to pay their respects.

And some people, in response to this collective hyperbole, started wearing shirts saying "I didn't cry for the Pope". And I think I can kind of understand that. Just like I can understand people saying they are fed up with what they think of as the Polish World War II martyr complex.

To say that you are "over" a tragedy others are still hurting from MIGHT be an expression of cynicism. But it doesn't have to be - sometimes it's just a counter-reaction to other people's emotions. Emotions that may be constructive, but don't have to be. Then it might be realism and honesty.

(There is also, often, an element of show in a public tragedy; I'm not surprised when some people respond with scepticism. To put it in a Polish context again - because I think I shouldn't comment on 9/11 - occasionally we have tragedies that result in a public declaration of a day of mourning. I have to admit that on those days I do think "And yet so many people die in stupid car accidents due to drunken drivers - we do not mourn them like that, even though they are equally dead").

Aquinas' Goose said...

As an American... I can sympathize with the "I'm so over 9/11" T-shirt, but only due to the concrete facts of the aftermath itself--the fact that the tragedy was not in the deaths of innocents but in what our country has done. 9/11 has become the stomping ground of whether or not your patriotic, a way of pushing ideologies down other people's throats, and an excuse to turn the federal government into Big Brother. Oh, and the fear mongering. Dear heavens, the fear mongering! A tragedy can bring out the best or the worst in Man: we saw the best of the Japanese, but we're seeing the worst of the Americans. 9/11 has become a tool in the hands of warmongers, fearmongers, and hatemongers, and I must say I am more than over that.

Seraphic said...

One of the perennial virtues of young people is that you hate hypocrisy. If you're not feeling something, you don't want to fake it. And when you ascertain that someone is trying to manipulate you to get you to accept their bad behaviour, you're outraged.

After 20 years of adults telling you to be honest, to tell the truth and to be gentle and peaceful, it is pretty darn annoying to discover adults pulling long faces or threatening to drop bombs.

The thing is, though, that not all the adults are faking it. Many adult Poles were probably frightened of what the future looked like without John Paul 2 in it, and indeed Poland has changed a lot since that particular unifying force has gone to heaven.

And almost 3,000 people and therefore at least 3,000 families have lost someone they really loved to a horrible death. Several thousands of Americans do not mourn 9.11 as a loss of national prestige but because it was the day they lost part of their heart. And I don't think anyone who wore a "I'm so over 9/11" t-shirt would want to wear it where those families might see them. And a Polish Catholic survivors of Communist days--retired ship-workers, for example, might also be upset by a teenager's snarky "I didn't cry" shirt. For the ship-worker, the death of JP2 wasn't an excuse to snivel or an opportunity for high-minded promises but perhaps the end of an extraordinary time in Polish history.

Personally, I wouldn't like such provocative T-shirts because I don't like my lived experience of history relegated to the "memory hole." This is party because I was born after the 1960s, and people of my parents' generation (although not my parents) act as though civilization, Canada and the Church REALLY began in 1960s. Perhaps I would wear an "If you remember the 1960s, you're too damn old" T-shirt. Ah ha ha!

Seraphic said...

By the way, there's no crime in not reading JP2's encyclicals. I don't know if the fault rests with him or his English translator, but they can really be a snore. That said, Mulieris Dignitatem is well worth the read. Everyone should read that.

Iota said...

I completely agree people can be upset about other people being all provocative and possibly disrespectful. Which is why I wouldn’t have worn a shirt like either of those – even when I do want to say provocative things I also want to know my audience to make sure I don’t actually offend them too much (which, almost by definition, means I should never be provocative about stuff that's *personal*). And knowing your audience is hard when you’re transmitting via T-shirt.

Then again being provocative and possibly somewhat disrespectful is what some people do exactly because they have a low tolerance for spectacle, perceived hypocrisy and such (young people very much included). Which doesn’t, necessarily, make them awful. Sometimes it just makes them a different kind of non-conformist (and possibly a different kind of naïve).

> Because I don't like my lived experience of history relegated to the "memory hole”.

I suspect it’s a kind of chronological cross to bear. I already get that kind of feeling when I listen to teens (by whose standards I’m rather old, since I remember the 90’s). I suspect any history you didn’t live through is, perforce, "prehistory", and many people are inclined to treat prehistory as if it never happened or at least didn’t really matter. Which can't be pleasant if you're the metaphorical dinosaur.

> I don't know if the fault rests with him or his English translator

I‘ve read some of his writings in Polish and they were quite okay. Pleasurable reading, even (I might have a weird taste in literature though). I suspect it might be a problem with translating Polish into English in general, even if the translator was great.
(now I’m kind of curious and might actually look the encyclicals up in English).

From professional experience (I’m actually a translator), Polish is a “bulkier” language than English. When I want to make things I wrote in Polish sound not too horrible in English, I have to simplify and streamline. But I can do that only with texts I’ve written - the job of a translator is always to translate, not edit. And I suppose that goes double for translating papal encyclicals.

Seraphic said...

Try his "To the Youth of the World" first. That's what I did, and why I gave up on reading his stuff until I was in theology school.

When I began to re-read Mulieris Dignitatem to prepare my Krakow lectures, I had begun studying Polish, a light went off in my brain, and I exclaimed, "He's THINKING IN POLISH!" And some Polish words are in grave danger of being mistranslated into English: JP2 write about (in English) "perfect" women when I think in Polish he must have meant "brave" or something other than perfect. In English we say "Nobody's perfect," so the idea of a perfect woman is inconceivable. Etc.

Iota said...

> JP2 write about (in English) "perfect" women when I think in Polish he must have meant "brave" or something other than perfect.

I just looked that up. In case you're interested, the English passage I found was:

"Thus the "perfect woman" (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These "perfect women" are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations."

The Polish was

"W taki też sposób owa „niewiasta dzielna” (por. Prz 31,10) staje się niezastąpionym oparciem i źródłem duchowej siły dla innych, którzy odczuwają w niej wielkie energie duchowe. Takim właśnie „dzielnym niewiastom” zawdzięczają wiele ich rodziny, a niejednokrotnie całe narody."

The Polish one has "dzielna" which is brave/courageous. Also possessing fortitude/steadfast, in older Polish and just all round good in even older Polish. Definitely not the same thing as "perfect".

English Bibles sometimes refer to the woman in Proverbs 31:10 as "good", "excellent", or "truly capable" (that would be closest to "dzielna"), but some use "perfect".

Very interesting, I'll delve into "To the Youth of the World" when I have time. Thanks for the, erm, "recommendation" :-)

Seraphic said...

There you go. A poor choice of translation that could really stand between the confused English-speaker and Bl. John Paul's true meaning. Brave...steadfast...truly capable: all better choices than "perfect." Women in the English world who obsess on being "perfect" sometimes fall prey to anorexia.