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Friday, September 09, 2005

Landscapes of Loss



A new 9/11 anniversary comes and how will it be remembered. The surge of patriotism, the ideal of our nation as a sleeping giant arising to defend itself against an evil Islamic enemy was squandered as we now bury ourselves in policework in Iraq to build a country whose adopted constitution already states that no law may contradict the laws of Islam. The numbers of the dead are likely to be topped by the casualties from Hurricane Katrina and if there is anything the two events have in common, it's that government incompetence contributed to the death tolls and the recognition that in disaster management we have learned little in the intervening four years.

To look across the country is to see a landscape of loss. From the gulf coast to new york, from the families of dead soldiers across the nation to the families of those far away yet still living, a lot has been given and little received in return. What gains we have made, have been squandered. The obscenity of the International Freedom Center which is set to preach the evils of America is set to be planted on the soil of Ground Zero. Iraq's new government will ultimately be at best another Turkey or Pakistan and at worst another Iran. Afghanistan is slowly unraveling while we pay it no attention. And from a nation courageously confronting the worst attack in half a century, we have become a nation in which children starve and our enemies mockingly offer us aid to feed them. The words of Eicha ring all the more clearly now.

We are most certainly no longer united, if we ever were. The Democratic party has become shrilly partisan and so radical that it is nearly unrecognizable except as an adjunct of the far left which now dominates it. The Republican party is soulless and focused on gaining as much spoils as possible before the next election comes. The country is more divided than ever and the divisions are straining us badly. The basic premises of a united nation are unraveling and those on the far left and far right believe in nothing but tearing the country apart so that their ideologies might win. America is as broken as the burning towers themselves and like the towers, there is no one who will raise us up again if we do not.

And we too, we forget.

After a while your eye gets used to seeing what's missing and no longer even expects it to be there. You no longer look up and expect the towers to be there. You no longer peer along Broadway or look downtown from a skyscraper expecting those two familiar shapes to be there. The maps still point to the world trade center, subway stops still direct you there and soon they will be replaced by an ugly commonplace forgettable construction. And that is the final stage of loss, to replace what has been lost with something truly inferior and to forget so that even the degree of difference is no longer recognized anymore.

Whether September 11th is to be a signpost of our ruination or salvation as a nation remains up to us but the signs do not look good. And when we discard hope for a better future, only the landscapes of loss remain. How shall we remember and commemorate September 11th then?

Wander the streets of the city. Walk to 23rd and look up at the Flatiron building. Able along the river to the gray shadowy bulk of the Intrepid Aircraft carrier like a small town resting on water. Pass on to the spire of the Empire State building, the art deco ascension of the Chrysler Building. Meander through Central Park, follow the ramble and sit on the mushroom besides the Mad Hatter, go to the ocean and watch the tide come in and out marking the sand. Stand besides the lions at the library, explore the treasures of the Metropolitan Museum, walk over Brooklyn Bridge and think of Walt Whitman, watch the sunset come to the arch at Washington Square Park.

Do all these things and more and remember, a terrible enemy waits outside the gates.
Remember and enjoy the city while you can. Enjoy the towns and the cities you live in. Remember their history. Remember too that their future is not set.

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