There were times in my life when I believed I really could change the world. In fact, up until seven weeks ago, one of the major aims of my life was to take the good graces I had been given as an American and take them to other lands. I learned multiple languages so that I could use my good fortune as an American to travel to another part of the world simply to educate and help people have a chance at a better life than they would have had without me.
The day before the attack, I had picked up some brochures on the Peace Corps and a few similar programs. I had decided that I wanted to spend a year or two in China before the 2008 Olympics, traveling around the country teaching English and other ideas and helping individual families that are struggling in China (especially in western China, where conditions are poor).
Seven weeks ago today, everything changed.
I have several friends who serve in police departments; I have several relatives who are firemen. These people risk their lives to help others. Hundreds of people just like my brother, my father, my uncle died on September 11.
My mother is a postal employee. Every day, she comes home extremely worried that the next package or envelope she handles might be loaded with anthrax or something worse. Every night, she watches the news and hears of another post office worker getting sick.
It seemed so detached then. I watched the twin towers fall to the ground on the news and it seemed so unreal. But in the weeks since, the real purpose of the attack has hit home. The point of the attack wasn't to destroy the towers. It wasn't to kill a few postal employees with anthrax. The point was to alter the lives of every one of us.
So much sadness has come about due to these attacks. People have died, people are dying, people will die due to them. Through the course of human existence, we must face death on a daily basis, but this is different. This time, it is death brought about by the ideas of someone who doesn't value life. It is the random killing of innocent people in order to support an idea; there is no goal in mind other than to simply spread fear and death. It's something that I do not and cannot understand, and it has brought a great sadness into my heart. It has made me question greatly the choices and decisions I have made in my life up to this point.
I think that beyond the huge amount of physical damage done by the attacks, a major psychological blow was dealt that touches the heart of every American. I see it when I walk along the sidewalk and see more flags fluttering in the autumn wind than I've ever seen before. I see it when parents are wary about sending their children out for trick or treating, where last year it would have happened without a second thought. I see it when I feel that strong tug of patriotism in my heart, one that was there before but is now stronger than ever.
Last night, I found the stack of brochures sitting on my desk. As I read through them and thought about everything that had happened over the last few weeks, how a group of people who have a hatred for America have sought to bring fear into our hearts, I realized something. The minute I change the way I live my life because of their actions, I have lost.
I have had a dream for years where I go to live in a village in China, learn their dialects, expose them to new ideas in every sense, help them improve their agricultural systems (I've studied how to grow rice and other crops with rudimentary equipment), and give these people a chance at a better life. More than that, though, I want to teach them to make up their own minds and follow their own hearts.
These last seven weeks have drowned this picture in a wave of sadness; in fact, I can't conceive of being as happy with the world around me as I was before the planes hit that tower and when envelopes full of anthrax started appearing in the mail. But the dream I have of teaching just one person in the world to break the bonds of intellectual tyranny and think for themselves keeps me going. Then, I think (I believe) I will feel happiness again.
I suppose the real point of this writeup is that no matter how the attacks of seven weeks ago have affected you, it is perhaps a greater loss if it makes you lose sight of your bigger goals. Even in a world with an added shade of grey, our dreams can still exist and we can still follow them. We can still change the world no matter what acts of terror come our way.
After all, the way to combat hatred is through love.
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