The cool night breezes blow just beneath the slightly raised windows. The oppressive heat of summer is gone for this cycle and cicadas rejoice with a steady concert of their one note samba. We can flick off the a/c switch and use nature to set the comfort level again, for a while. For just a little while. Nothing should be wrong during this time of year. Football has reared its ever-helmeted head and the pennant races are winding down. The Cubs and the Sox have once again proven that to root for them is to align yourself with Joe BTZFLK, the ever-drenched character from Li'l Abner. The golfers have had their chances at this year's Glory, and even the new Prince of Golf has had to wipe his brow and admit it: "These guys are good!"
All should be just right in America these cool fall days. My guy got elected, and even though control of Congress is still a toss-up, folks seem to be coming to grips with the fact that the fortunate son is the leader of the free world. I wish I could pray for him. It's somehow sad that he can pray for me and I cannot return the favor, but I do wish him all the best as he confronts something that I think he knew would come. I do think he and his dad both knew that the times were changing and that is why he got roped into that political cesspool they call a Presidential Election. I firmly believe he knew that something big was on the horizon. (I know I did.) He has a Lord and Savior to help him through all of this. (I wish I did.)
I have a good friend who works a few blocks from the World Trade Center. He and his wife were unable to have children, so they went to China and took a little girl out of one of the orphanages there and brought her back to America. My friend would take his little girl, around six years old now, down to his office sometimes. There were a half dozen firemen who worked out of a station just next door to his building. They would always cootchie coo the little Asian girl and talk to my friend about how she was growing.
Those firemen will never see their children again. My friend thinks of this as he writes to me about how he feels. When someone asked, "Why did so many firemen die? Didn't they know the building was going to collapse?" the reply was, "Firemen rush into buildings, not out of them."
Firemen rush into buildings. Imagine the line of folks trying to work their way down the staircases as they encountered the firemen, lugging themselves, heavy suits, equipment, and very little hope, up that stairwell. Many folks leaving the building said they saw some firemen fall down, exhausted already, not even close to where the flames were. Not even close to where they would eventually face that stark realization that they would never see their children again.
However, where I sit, the cool fall air envelops the house and provides relief from the heat which has been so strong this summer. I try to imagine the heat that roared like the Devil himself in the upper floors of that tall, tall building, as folks who might have scarcely knew each other held hands and jumped to their deaths just to escape the fire that was burning their backs so very badly. A fire they knew they could not walk through to get to any staircase. I hope they found some sort of relief and someone to whom they could pray as they fell that long, long way.
My friend in New York City has another friend who grew up in Afghanistan. He has lived here for 35 years, but he still follows what happens in his home country very closely, and he is very afraid. He sends this e-mail to my friend:
I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt
in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York.
I agree that something must be done about those monsters.
But the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the
government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who
took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a
plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think
Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in
the concentration camps." It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing
to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators.
They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and
clear out the rat's nest of international thugs holed up in their country.
Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The
answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few
years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled
orphans in Afghanistan--a country with no economy, no food. There are
millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in
mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all
destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan
people have not overthrown the Taliban.
So the pundits on television and radio talk of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age? The trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the
Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn
their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their
hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine
and health care? Too late. It's already been done.
New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least
get the Taliban? Not likely. In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat,
only they have the means to move around. They'd slip away and hide. Maybe
the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans--they don't move too
fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping
bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this
horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the
Taliban--by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time.
So what else is there? What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true
fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with
ground troops. When people speak of "having the belly to do what needs to be done" they're thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as
needed. Having the belly to overcome any moral qualms about killing innocent
people. Let's pull our heads out of the sand. What's actually on the table
is Americans dying. And not just because some Americans would die fighting
their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden's hideout. It's much bigger than
that. In order to get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go
through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan
would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West.
And guess what: That's Bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants.
That's why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It's all right
there. He really believes Islam would beat the West. It might seem
ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam
and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the West wreaks a holocaust in
those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, that's even
better from Bin Laden's point of view. He's probably wrong, in the end the
West would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years
and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for
Bin Laden does. Anyone else?
I read this e-mail from a friend of my friend and I am so glad I have a daughter and not a son. I have a feeling that this is going to be the defining moment of my daughter's life. I think that life as she knows it will change forever. This is all just now starting to sink in as she avoids the news and tries not to discuss this too much with me and her mother. But she knows. She has now confronted the specter of her own death, just as I did at her age when my mom picked me up at the movies and said, "Well, the world is about to end," during the defining night of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Perhaps these defining moments come in cycles.
If this is true, I can only wonder (assuming she survives whatever life holds for her and whatever this all leads to) what my daughter’s teenage child will wake up to one morning around the year 2025 and say to himself, "This is going to change everything I know about life."
After watching the sickening sight of that second plane tilt its wings just enough to destroy as many lives as possible, as much as I’d like to be the sage grandpa who helps him through this defining moment in his life . . . I’m not really sure I want to be here to see it.