10 years ago

Please excuse this personal indulgence. We will return to our regular programming tomorrow.

I didn’t understand then, and I don’t understand now. There has been a lot of discussion about the events of September 11, 2001. I was in university at the time, at the Université Laval in Quebec City. I heard about it from one of my best friends, who is American. He was shocked, and I think he understand that these were momentous events.

I’ve never been a very empathetic person. I couldn’t understand how 3,000 people dying in a fiery building was different from 3,000 people dying in a famine or one person dying of disease.  From my current vantage point, ten years later, I still think every death is a loss, at the same time as being inevitable (in that every one of us will die at some point). But it was the sheer hatred and murderous destruction that was entirely the result of human action that was despicable. It was the shock of not being able to comprehend how human beings could calmly plot for months to inflict this kind of suffering on fellow human beings.

A couple years later, I was attending a conference in San Diego. Most of the attendees were American, and as I joined them at breakfast one morning, the conversation turned to the presidency of George Bush. I was indifferent to his political stance, but one woman shared her gratitude that he was president during 9/11. That’s just what we needed, she said, someone who was strong and would lead us into a war of vengeance, to pull us all out of the confusion prevailing after the terrorist attacks. I was surprised and dismayed to find out that, in her mind at least, responding to brutality with brutality was right and helpful.

At the time, I didn’t understand the magnitude of the loss experienced by the American people, and by all freedom-loving people in the West. Now that I’m older, I can begin to understand some of the many reasons September 11, 2001 was a tragedy. But I still don’t understand the hatred. I don’t understand why people blame others for situations of poverty, sickness or even just lack of opportunity. I don’t understand envy of freedom, prosperity or health. I don’t understand why human beings neglect the needs of members of their own species, who share the same planets and have the same desires. I don’t understand why people, who are more intelligent than other animals, fight over shiny trinkets, influence and opinions.

That’s why I don’t like to remember the tragedy of 9/11. I remember the heroism. I remember people helping others in need. I remember people saving lives. I remember people working hard and putting forward the best that was in them. After all, that’s what gives me hope for the human race: when we really need it, people are able to set aside their differences and pull together to achieve something noble. It might not happen often, and it might not happen every time, but the potential is there. There is at least some good within most people. So, even though I don’t understand why people cause each other to suffer, I know we also cause each other great joy. I’ve simply made a conscious choice to focus on the good.

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