Serious Thoughts 2: Suffering

In the days immediately after September 11, 2001, the US appealed to the world to side with it against terrorism, both on the basis that combating terrorism is the right thing to do, and because America had just suffered such a terrible attack. The world responded, at least for a time.

Now, let's be clear. Combating terrorism is the right thing to do, though very little of it can be done effectively with guns and bombs. Most of it requires diplomacy, tact, mediation, and a passion for justice. But I digress. I want to talk about the second reason the world responded to the US's appeal: suffering.

Many people all around the world had mixed feelings about the attacks on the World Trade Center. On the one hand, they were horrified and grieved. On the other, deep down, they were hopeful. I saw an interview with a Palestinian the other day, talking about those first weeks. "We thought Americans finally understood what we have been suffering," he said. "We thought that at last they would help us." An Israeli would have said the same thing, no doubt.

There was a time, fortunately a brief one, when the American government seemed to use its people's suffering as a justification for any action it chose to take. (Using the justification that the US has the military, political and economic might to enforce its will on the rest of the world, which is the current policy, is just as mistaken and much more dangerous. It is no wonder that most other countries are no longer "on side" with the US. But that too is a digression.) The fact that America has suffered is important, but not for that reason.

Flashback to the days before September 2001.

For decades, the United States had been fortunate enough to escape the fate of so many countries all over the world. American civilians (and military personnel, for the most part) were safe. As in any society, they feared crime, but they did not fear atrocity, unlike the people of Spain, India, Pakistan, the former Yugoslavia, Algeria, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Israel, the Palestinian Occupied Territories, etc, etc. And in their safety, Americans became increasingly inward-looking, more and more self-centered, less and less concerned about the impact of their actions on the rest of the world. Extremism feeds on that kind of insularity, and uses the simplistic worldview it fosters to generate sympathy and funds.

Over the decades, individual Americans and the American government had supported various terrorist and pseudo-terrorist causes. The Provisional IRA, when it was bombing Britain's cities, killing its innocent civilians, and attempting to assassinate its leaders, received substantial funding from Americans via NORAID. The CIA's support of organisations and institutions now considered terrorist is also well documented. I cannot believe my people would have supported, or permitted, such things if the devastation they caused had been as real to them as the attack on the Twin Towers came to be.

Flash forward again to the present.

The anniversary last week allowed people to get back in touch with their grief - and their anger. Now, anger is like fire: it's a good tool, but a poor master. In the aftermath of any terrible event, it is anger that gets us back on our feet. But it also clouds our judgement, and makes us heedless of the consequences of our actions. In their fury, my fellow countrymen have been tempted to use their grief as a lever, or an excuse. "We've suffered," was the argument, "so we're entitled to do whatever we have to to feel safe again." Phrases like "acceptable losses" and "collateral damage" came up, people nodded wisely and looked stern. But two wrongs don't make a right, and making other people suffer will not make us feel better in the end. Pursuing a course of justice, where suspects are tried and the guilty are punished is part of the answer, but only part.

To really heal, we need our grief as well as our anger. Grief drives us to make something good come out of devastation. It unites us across ethnic, cultural, and national boundaries, and renews our empathy. Knowing what it is to suffer ourselves, we can imagine how other sufferers feel, and be touched by the desire to help them. And in helping others, we heal ourselves. More than that: we grow. We become stronger than we were before. We are more than whole, and live in a better world than we did before. This is the great gift of any suffering, the silver lining in the blackest cloud.

This is the challenge facing the United States, and indeed all of the West: to wake up to the shared suffering of the world, and build out of it a better place for our children. That would be a fitting memorial to honor those affected by September 11.

Today started off late, with a pain in my side. When I was finally able to remove myself from bed, I noticed it was 8am. This would mean a late stay at work, followed by a lot of traffic.

There is this special someone, that I know to have taken ill, so I stopped by Giant Eagle, and picked him up some flowers, cough drops, and a Pooh card. He was happy to receive his unexpected gifts. Oh how I love to see him smile. I wish I could suprise him all the time.
And I would...if my pocket book would let me.

forgetting every word that has ever slipped past these lips, liquid silk, there is very little holding me here. it is easy to simply pretend it all away and fill the space with an overwhelming sadness. i used to mistake the slow creeping electricity slithering up my spine as embarrassment. this amuses me now with the darkness clinging to my skin, simply waiting for the end, as if this were a film.

i try to remember finger painting and crayons and whether or not i was always so dramatic.

foot after foot along the sandy path i imagine stone eating dragons in the clouds, wondering if they are quite finished now. the tiny particles settle through the holes in my shoes and i recall his presence and the great swirling of dust that marked his every step. treading so lightly all this time, i find it is comforting to be in the presence of those who carry themselves this way.

i've set my clock ahead, so it is two a.m. now. i needed to lose a few hours.

I've only written a daylog once before, and I probably won't again after this, but I can't shake the feeling that my other daylog needs a follow-up.

On May 29, 2001 I wrote about how my wife and I had decided to have a baby. We chickened out after that and went back to taking precautions for a week or so before deciding again that we really did want to try. Fast forward a few more weeks and I come home from uni late at night to find my wife with with her "I have something to tell you" face on. She shows me the test and there's the line, clear as day. It seems we got lucky after only a couple of tries, which really hammers home to me the importance of being careful if you want to enjoy yourself but you don't want to make another human being.

An interesting nine months follow, and some days are better than others. I particulary remember one very up and down day. In the morning we go for the first ultrasound, and I see my child for the first time. In the afternoon I visit my grandparents in hospital. Grandpa had a lung infection, among other things, and was quite sick. Grandma had fallen over while visiting him a few days earlier and had broken her hip. I show them the ultrasound photos, and I'm glad my grandpa got to see them, as he died a few days later. That evening my wife and I have a nice dinner to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. When we get home there's a phone message from my brother that sounds important, and when I call him he tells us that he and his wife are also going to have a baby. Late in the evening my wife and I are watching The West Wing, and a news break tells us something we can't quite believe. After The West Wing they switch over to continuous live news from America and we watch a few thousand people die on the other side of the world. Ugh.

Fast forward several months and, eight days late, our son is born on March 26, 2002. His name is Andrew Callum, but we call him Cal. I particularly like this, as secretly in my mind when I call him Cal I'm thinking Kal-El. I have a photo on my desk at work of me in my Superman t-shirt holding him in his. He's now almost six months old, is rolling over like a champion and is the cutest baby in the world (with his little cousin Gemma, born exactly eight weeks later, a close second).

I don't get to spend as much time with him as I'd like to, as I'm not only working full time but am also studying law part time, but every second we spend together is a joy.

Guess who just called?

Nope, it was the gun store!!!

Guess what they said.

"Sir, you can pick up your rifle anytime tomorrow."

Insert ear to ear grin here.

I know it doesn't make sense but now I think I know why I was such in a good mood today. For the most part, I looked like this :-) and when I wasn't like that I was like this :-D.

All day.

No wonder people were staring at me and acted kinda iffy.

It's a beautiful Marlin .22 lr rifle, and I can't wait, I already have bunch of hyper velocity rounds for it and even some subsonic stuff.


Sit around, the marlin and marlin model 60 nodes will be filled very soon. And after that tasco and tasco silver antler scopes.


There is something about the respect and honesty that R meets me with (and that I meet him with in return) that makes feel that this will last. The glow hasn't faded: that's odd for me, I'm easy to bore. But, to me R is like a new person each day-- I'll never figure him out (I never want to!)

It's easy to brick up the windows and doors and stay safe in being all alone, toneless and lost. I've done that and I don't like how it tastes. But, it's hard to see that it is bitter in there. It’s hard ‘till you tear down the walls again.

I finished writing one of my plays this morning. I'm very happy about this. (I almost don't want to say much about the play. I don't want to jinx it.) The writing is coming out with less effort since I asked R to get on my case about it. Another good thing between us is there.

R has a harp by his window; he used to play it as a jazz harp. I’d noticed some dust on it so I went over it with a cloth. The dust came off the surface but on the board I noticed that there was something bright peaking through. I could see that the harp was not just covered in a layer of dust but that under a thick waxy layer of dirt and oils was the true color of the harp: delicate, bright, glass like.

So, I made some soapy water with oil soap and washed it. It took some time, since the dirt was thick and I didn't dare use a stronger detergent that might mare the lacquer underneath. Slowly the gold-brown colors emerged. When I first saw R's harp I did not see that I was missing its true colors and richness. I did not know it was covered in haze. I thought the haze was the finish of the harp. It gave me so much joy to find more there than I had ever expected.

I went around the strings with a cotton swab, I cleaned the strings which had been brown at first, but they were, in fact, semi-transparent and in a pastel rainbow of colors.

It made me happy since it mirrored how I feel these days. I cough up smoke and dust from my mouth. I'm covered in a layer of haze and dirt that is slowly sliding away. The warmth and brightness is restored to my skin the cobwebs are breaking off... and I'm shocked... amazed at how many layers there are to clear away. Decay, corrosion, and antiquification all hinge on time and they work slowly. It's so easy to slip away and become numb and safe and never know your brightness is hidden. But, compared to the vitality I feel now, that safe feeling seems, well? Worthless. I won't ever forget that.

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