Editor's note: This "Wearing Thin" column appeared in The Athens NEWS on Sept. 13, 2001. I wrote it the evening of the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. I realized just now that it's no longer findable online, so I'm giving it new life. I still think it's a worthy message even though nobody in a position of authority listened the first time. TS
On an Internet newsgroup, a parent from Hoboken, New Jersey, posted a message shortly after noon on Tuesday. She jerked into sharp, personal focus the impossible tragedy that had been playing out all day on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
"A lot of my daughter's friends' parents work in the World Trade Center," she wrote. "When I went down to the school, it was mayhem... A bunch of kids had walked over to the river to watch. Who can blame them, but it gave me a heart attack."
It broke my heart, too, to visualize children watching their parents die.
Let's not forget the human lives destroyed Tuesday, Sept. 11, or their families who are grieving.
Let's not send those thousands of victims of terrorism through an ideological rendering plant, transforming skin, blood, heart and soul into abstract hatred, pretexts and polemics.
Let's not commit the same monstrous crime that the terrorists committed, in negating human life, in pursuit of a lifeless ideal.
Let's not avoid looking at our own foreign policies that elevate political gamesmanship above flesh and blood, and fuel the sort of cold, killing hatred that was wrought on America Tuesday morning.
Let's beware the cold calculations that utilize numbers instead of names, and employ mundane terms like "collateral damage" as stand-ins for the slaughter of innocents, whether they're passengers on a jet airliner or hungry children in Iraq.
Let's find the fiends responsible for Tuesday's terror, and those who harbored them, and make them pay for what they've done. But let's avoid indiscriminate retaliation that kills the innocent, and recklessly unleashes the gods of war.
Is that asking too much? Will too much care in exacting justice prevent the accomplishment of that justice? Perhaps, but taking exquisite care that we're precise in our retaliation, however severe its execution, will show the world and ourselves that we're not terrorists. It will provide a shining counterpoint to the psychosis of abstraction that allows fanatical terrorists to fly a fully loaded airline into a crowded skyscraper, in apparent pursuit of a demented formula for salvation.
As a school assignment, my sixth-grade daughter was asked to write her own feelings about the tragedy Tuesday evening. This is part of what she wrote:
"Every day I hope for world peace. I hope someday we will all be equal, and there will be no more fighting, killing or anything else of that kind. The world won't be the same anymore... The way the feeling will live inside of me will be a memory I won't want to remember. People who had family in those buildings or on those airplanes will never be the same. This is the first thing in my lifetime that will be history."
Most of our lives will be changed by Tuesday's events. Our children's, too. Unimaginable pain for the survivors and their families, and heartbreak for all of us.
We must find a way to bring justice to those who committed Tuesday's attack, and anyone who aided them. But let us never forget the horrific consequences of valuing an untouchable, unlovable ideal above innocent human life.