Ferguson and a Broken Criminal Justice System

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

~John F. Kennedy

Looking at video footage coming out of Ferguson, Missouri was like looking at a scene from the Gaza strip. Of course the journalists went right to reporting the burning buildings and the overturned cars and the looting. It would be hard not to, I imagine. Of course they reported on being tear gassed, harassed, pummeled with random objects, and some even looked down right afraid. Domestic journalists in a war zone on the home front.

As I watched the muted scenes on CNN, I also listened to the police scanner in Ferguson, Missouri. A police officer, identified only by his badge number, Trooper 987 went missing and didn’t respond as he tried to help firefighters put out the fire that eventually burned the Little Caesar’s to the ground. It took over an hour for him to be found, thankfully, unharmed. Someone got hurt in the Toys R Us and the EMTs refused to respond because they were afraid for their own safety. Firefighters abandoned buildings which would later turn to nothing but ash because there were shots being fired around them.

I sat awake until one in the morning watching the chaos, biting my nails, shaking my head and wondering how it was possible that this could be happening in our country.

It’s happening because our justice system is broken. And while I understand why so many people are enraged, the only thing I can find in myself is sadness. Sadness because I want to believe in the American myth that we are the greatest nation on earth and that things work in this country. Sadness because I feel like we’re falling off a cliff into darkness and it seems almost like I’m helpless. I felt sadness for Michael Brown’s family, who were so stricken with grief that they said some very inappropriate things. But how can you really talk about what is and is not appropriate for a family whose son has been shot dead by someone paid to protect him? I felt sadness for the business owners who lost everything they’d spent their lives building up. Mortgage payments, car loans, college educations for their children, poof, out like the fragile flicker of a candle. I felt sadness for their employees who would be out of a job in the morning. Meals for their family, rent payments, electricity, heat for the oncoming winter, gone. I even felt sadness for the looters, who were so filled with what they felt was the pain of injustice and likely so desperate, so poor, that the only way they could express their anger was to steal from their own community.

Everything, it seems, is broken.

And then, on the heels of Ferguson, comes another failure to indite. Another black man killed by a white police officer. Eric Garner, strangled to death on camera. I thought about the amount of rage it must take, to strangle someone to death. Normally, you hear of husbands killing adulterous wives by strangling, because it is a personal way to kill someone. Easier to shoot them dead than to literally choke the life out of someone, to hold them in your hands while you crush their trachea, while they struggle to get free. Just now, writing this, I took a deep breath and felt so grateful for the way my lungs work, for bringing me the oxygen my body needs to sustain itself. We take that for granted, every single second. And still, the thought of the rage. How could there not have been red, blinding rage, fueling the officer who strangled that man, a stranger, to death?

Where did the rage come from? And what, as a society, can we do to fix it?

I managed to find some hope in the protests that took place after the failure to indite in Eric Garner’s case. They were largely peaceful and deeply symbolic. They hearkened back to the 1960s protests led by the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They have so far embodied what I find tragically beautiful in this country. And they’re being led by my generation, the millennials, a generation that has been largely dismissed as lazy, entitled children who have no desire to aspire to anything at all.

Well guess what America – we are aspiring. We are aspiring to make this country what it should be, what we’ve been saying it is but isn’t – color blind. And that’s a damn good start.

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(c) 2014 Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed News

 

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The True Red

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in

~ Graham Greene

November 6, 2014

On Tuesday night, the Empire State Building turned red to symbolize a midterm win for the Republican party.

On Thursday, thanks to US air strikes in Northern Syria, the desert turned red as well – with blood. More blood. This time, two children are expected to have died, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (a UK-based organization). You won’t read about the children on CNN, however. There, you’ll read about how the strikes probably, maybe, sorta, we think, killed a suspected French jihadist and bomb maker working for Khorasan, David Drugeon (who changed his name to Daoud after he converted to Islam at the age of 14).

You can learn all about his radicalization in the CNN article. The “key” jihadist bomb maker was born in 1989. He was a year younger than me. You can learn about his parents’ divorce and how he took odd jobs driving to pay for trips to Egypt to learn Arabic and then slipped off the radar when he went to Afghanistan to fight Americans there.

What you can’t learn about is the identity of the two children who died in pursuit of ending David/Daoud’s life.

Who were they? What did they want to be? Did they aspire to be bomb makers too, or were their childhood dreams for more peaceable things – a doctor, a teacher, a mother? What were their names and what were they doing there? Who were their parents and what choice did they have about where they lived or where they just happened to be passing through?

The more cynical among us may say that it is “collateral damage” and that if they were hanging out near a bomb maker they were likely already radicalized or well on their way and maybe we did the world a favor by snuffing their little lives out.

I disagree.

Innately, I believe that we are all children of God. We all deserve a chance to overcome the obstacles thrown in our way. None of us is perfect. We are all dealt a hand that we must play. It isn’t right to push the hand down and force a fold because someone else has played their cards wrong.

Although I doubt 25 year old Daoud thought he had played his cards wrong. He obviously thought we, the United States, are wrong.

And maybe we are. It’s not like our society couldn’t take a good, hard, long look at itself and find some room for improvement. As a whole, we’re material, we’re selfish, we’re vain, we don’t listen, we’re arrogant, egotistical, divisive, combative, and not always bright. Of course there are some gems among us, a lot of them, shining brightly and hopefully they will eventually outshine the lot of carbon beneath, but every society is the same at its core in this fact. Every society has its problems but there are always, always gems. That’s what makes humanity so beautiful. And those two children that were murdered – were they gems? Could they have been? Does anyone care about them or to even ask who they were or what they wanted out of their lives? Could they have grown to be a better person than any of us?

I guess we’ll never know. That’s the real tragedy. The true red.

 

Naming the Bones

In Bosnia, I remember, they spoke about a holocaust. I went to Bosnia to see. I felt, if it is, I must move heaven and earth.

~Elie Wiesel

October 21, 2014

When I was in school studying creative writing at the University of North Carolina, my obsession with the Bosnian War sprang back to life. I wrote half a dozen short stories based on accounts that I’d read and heard. I spent dozens of hours in the massive Davis Library, researching the war. I wrote down quotes and cites and made notes in my neat, small handwriting which I filed away in a tabbed three ring binder. Some of the tabs were names: “Milosevic”; “Mladic”; “Tito.” Some of the tabs were places: “Srebrenica”; “Sarajevo”; “Tuzla”. And some of the tabs were atrocities: “Rape camps”; “Siege of Sarajevo”; “Genocide at Srebrenica.”

The library research was much different than it had been when I was eight. The internet made things easier, but harder too. The amount of information we can take in quickly using the internet makes it easier to become scarred. I watched videos. In the videos were Muslim men wearing ragged, dirty clothing, lined up next to one another. And Serb soldiers walked up and down the line and shot them all in the head. One by one they fell into graves they’d dug for themselves.

Nightmares, which I’ve always been plagued with, got worse. I would wake in the middle of the night screaming and sweating, grasping at my chest, sure that I’d just been shot. I was starting to experience symptoms of post traumatic stress from a war which I’d never lived through. But I pushed on, because I wanted to tell these stories and because I felt weak and guilty. I shouldn’t be affected like this, it wasn’t my war. I was just a passerby. These weren’t my horrors to suffer from. I was just telling the story. Or trying to.

The following is one of the many stories that would follow. It was written after I’d graduated college. It was the first story I’d written about Bosnia since I graduated. When I wrote it, I thought I’d put my pen down. I thought I was done writing about war, especially this war, but as it turns out, I’m never really done.

July 9, 2012

I’m naming them now, the bones, that is. I didn’t do that before, but now I think I hear them speaking to me.

This one over here, this is Fatima. We have her femur and a couple broken pelvis bones. I estimate she was about 12 when she was killed. She suffered trauma to her pelvic region, suggesting a violent rape. Because we don’t have her skull, we don’t have dental records to identify her. We’ll have to send some DNA from the bones to the lab, which could take months, maybe years, maybe forever. For now, I call her Fatima and dust the dirt off.

This is my sixteenth summer in Bosnia. Each year I tell myself I won’t go back, that I have done enough, but there are still more bones being found, so every year, after the snow and the ice has melted in the hills, I get on a plane in Philadelphia and fly to Sarajevo, to take a bus to Tuzla to dig through the bones found around Srebrenica.

I’m working on Amir now. He was most likely in his mid to late thirties. He’s unusual because we have almost a complete skeleton and some shreds of clothing. I am proud of Amir. He will be identified quickly as long as he still has family coming here, looking for him, as long as he still has family at all. When I have him cleaned up, we will put an identification number on a yellow piece of cardstock. My assistant will write it in his big, blocky lettering and carefully attach it to the body bag. When he is done, he will create another identical tag, and we will lay out the scraps of clothing along with the Swiss army knife, the silver chain from a pocket watch, and the lighter we found around Amir. My assistant will put the tag on the top of the blanket we assemble the items on. The blanket will be in a room the size of an auditorium, and the families of the missing will walk up and down the aisles of shreds of clothing and items and tags, searching for something that sparks a memory from nearly two decades ago.

Amir was a smoker, I can tell by the state of his teeth. If we had found him sooner, we may have been able to find the brand of cigarettes he smoked, which would have led his family to him quicker. But the years have worn away the paper cartons, taking the fibers back into the earth and leaving the bones behind.

One day, the bones are going to disappear like that paper, and I will never have to come to Bosnia again. But if the bones disappear before I am done, that means I have failed, so I force myself to work faster, longer, harder. Every year there are still more bones found, but less people to tend to them. The unidentified line the catacombs of Tuzla, waiting.

The site that has brought me to Bosnia this year was found like many others. A Serbian man, who was a boy then, came to us, no longer able to bear the guilt, and led us to The Place. The Place was not much different in appearance than many places in Bosnia. It was forested and green, the trees just beginning to bud after the frost. The soil was rich and smelled wet. A tree had fallen nearby but had not yet begun to rot. The Place was just inside the forest, bordering a field which had to be swept for land mines by a canine unit before we went in. Our man’s eyes darted, and he wrung his hands while he waited for the dogs to finish their patrol, insisting that there were no mines, that these fields were farmed and that the mines had been tripped long ago, not by dogs, but by people. Still, there are codes and procedures that need to be followed. The living must always come before the bones.

When we came to The Place, he pointed to the ground and said one word, “Dig.” And so we called in the excavators and began to turn the soil. It didn’t take long for the bones to show up, this grave was shallow, and it surprised me that it took so long to find; we found the shallow ones first, years ago. I told the excavator to stop and examined the bone closely. I shook my head, tossed it aside and told the excavator to continue on. It wasn’t a human bone, but a pig bone, a common occurrence. The Serb commanders told men like our man to cover the graves with slaughtered pigs to hide the bones, which were bodies then. Our man shifted his weight and looked around and wrung his hands while the excavators began to dig again.

Eventually, we found the bones we were looking for, and when we did, we sent the excavators away and proceeded with shovels and brushes. The first thing I teach all of my assistants is that they must be respectful of the bones.

That’s where we found Amir, who would be close to fifty now, had he not been shot in the back of the head, buried in The Place and covered by stuck pigs. As I brush the dirt out of Amir’s eye sockets, I wonder if our man had killed Amir. I used to stop myself from thinking these things, but now I let the thoughts wander. I have found that if I do not let them have free reign during the day, they come back to torture me during the night.

While I prepare Amir, my assistant comes in for Fatima. He asks me if this is it, and I nod without looking away from Amir. I can hear him placing the bones in the bag. The noise of the hard calcium hitting the metal table is muffled by the body bag, so I have to strain to hear it. I know he is being gentle. The zipper slowly creeps its way up the length of the bag. It zippers smoothly, because there isn’t much to fill the bag. I’ll miss her.

My hands no longer twitch to do the sign of the cross when I hear the zipper. In this place, my religion is the enemy, so I give the bones the respect they deserve and still my habitual hands. At first it was difficult, now it isn’t.

My assistant exits almost as quietly as he came in. I like this one; he doesn’t bother me with useless questions and philosophical blather. Perhaps that’s because his English isn’t very good. He comes from Rwanda, which confuses me, because there are many bones there, but I don’t ask him why he’s here. I leave him to his thoughts, because he leaves me to mine. What’s important is that he is gentle with the bones, and he gives them something I cannot – prayer. Before he sets them on the truck to be delivered to the catacombs, he says a prayer over each one. Sometimes, I stop my work to listen to his deep voice mumbling the Muslim prayers, but not today. Today, there is too much work to be done, and I cannot break, not even for Fatima.

When I am finished with Amir, I move onto Halim. I have a skull, four ribs, a femur, assorted foot bones and both lower arm bones, though the radius is missing from one. I estimate Halim was about 13, one of the younger boys from The Place, though not younger than the youngest, my Fatima.

Years ago, when I first came to Bosnia, I asked how so many girls ended up in these graves. I was just out of medical school, and when they briefed us, they told us to expect many men and possibly boys. The women and girls had been separated out and put on buses to Tuzla, they told us. It was just the men who were left behind. But it didn’t take long for girls to start appearing in the graves. When all of the stories were sorted out, we learned that the mothers of the bones tried to disguise their girls as boys to protect them from rape. They cut their hair and smeared their faces with mud. They removed their headscarves and put them in their sons’ clothes and watched while they boarded the buses with their fathers and brothers.

Sometimes, on the way to The Place, the girls would cry or speak, and the soldiers would discover them, and they would end their days like Fatima. Other times, they stayed silent, and they would end their days like Halim, who was beaten and then shot through the temple. An example killing – held up in front of the other prisoners and executed in plain sight. He was most likely not killed at The Place, but before, to keep the Muslims in line, flocked like the sheep they used to tend.

I smile and pet Halim’s skull. What a brave boy. He must have been a fighter, or he tried to escape. The mammalian instinct to survive never ceases to amaze me. I cannot gaze on Halim for long, I have to hurry, there are many more bones to get to before the morning.

Tomorrow, the auditorium will fill up with the sound of wailing. Many will come, and some will leave clutching a yellow tag that will allow them to collect their bones from the catacomb. Mothers, wives, siblings and children will line the room, supporting grandmothers and more mothers and more siblings and wives. A few will not cry. A few will touch the things gingerly, then pick up the tag and bring it to my assistant, who will use a translator to get the story and try to match the bones.

It won’t be long now before the three day march begins, where buses carrying the bones will flood out of Tuzla and descend upon Srebrenica. Those who are able will walk over 60 kilometers. The army will follow behind as the Muslims enter the Serbian territory. Some tourists will come and some reporters, but not many, not like the first five years. Only those like me still come. Those like me, and those who have no choice.

They will say prayers and bury the bones that I have cleaned for them, whatever we have been able to give back to them. And their hatred and their screams will shake the once Bosnian, now Serbian city so that not even the bravest of the Serbs will leave their stolen homes. Some will go back to the homes that they remember their fathers building. They will go back and confront the Serbs who live there now, who eat off of their dishes and sleep in the bed they shared with their dead husbands. But most won’t. Most will just go to Srebrenica to bury their bones and then get back on the buses like they did seventeen years ago, headed for Tuzla once more.

On that day, July 11th, when the bones reach their final destination, I will sit at a Serbian bar in the center of Srebrenica and drink the sweet wine until I can’t stand up. And then I will yell at the bartender, a Serbian who is barely eighteen, who was only a baby when it happened, and I will blame him for what has happened here, in slurred Serbian fragmented with English. At first, he will tell me that he hasn’t done anything, but eventually, he will just listen to me and pour me another drink, because he really doesn’t care what I say as long as the money keeps coming. Srebrenica is a very poor city now. When I can no longer remember the language, the bartender will help me out the door and walk me as close to the buses as he dares, and I will board the bus and sit next to my assistant who doesn’t drink because he is Muslim, and I will speak more words to him than I have spoken all summer.

And the next day, I will give myself back to the bones.

Let’s Talk About Gay Marriage

Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?

~ Sandra Day O’Connor

October 13, 2014

To be fair, gay marriage really has nothing to do with war and may not have a place on this blog…unless you’re one of the conspiracy theorists who think that gay marriage will tear this country apart. That being said, so many people are talking about it, I don’t think it’s fair not to. Except for the Supreme Court. They’re not talking about.

I guess I should profile myself here, because profiles seem to be so important in this whole debate. I am 26 years old. I am female. I am heterosexual. I am a semi-practicing Catholic who wishes she would get up and go to Mass more often. I am a registered Republican, but the older I get, the more liberal I get. It’s normally the opposite, I understand, but as the Republicans try to cling onto the older voters, they lose touch with my generation.

I don’t speak for my generation, but I do know a lot of people in it. We don’t give a shit about who one loves or who one marries. We care about finding jobs and paying off crippling school loans. We care about the fact that we don’t know if we’ll ever be able to afford a home of our own or if landlords will continue to take half of the entirety of our paychecks, which money we will never see again. We care about ISIS. We care about Ebola (at least enough to know we don’t want to get it). We care about our celebrities more than our soldiers, which is shameful. For those of us who identify as heterosexual, we don’t really care about who ones loves, and we take the fact that it’s easy for us to love and get married and get divorced and get married again for granted. I know a lot of people who are complete “rednecks,” who sport the Confederate flag on their diesel truck, who will talk until they are blue in the face about how they hate Obama and terrorists and maybe-Obama-is-a-terrorist (for the record I think this is ridiculous, but I entertain it) who when you ask them about gay marriage, rather surprisingly say, “That’s between them and God.” Their guns are a different story. That is between them and them and if you try to take them…Lordy.

It’s not about gay couples and the state. And people realize that. Do these above-mentioned people think homosexuals are going to hell? Maybe. But it doesn’t matter to them because it isn’t their deal and, in their opinion, separation of church and sate should matter. These gun-toting, conservative, mostly white Christian men, believe in the Constitution that separates church and state. They believe in it because they have to. Because of the guns (have I mentioned them?)

Oh right, church and state. That used to be important. I remember reading about that somewhere, a long time ago.

Recently, Pastor John Garlow of Skyline Church in California announced to his 2,000 plus person congregation that he would not be backing the Republican candidate for the 52nd congressional district of California, Carl DeMaio. DeMaio is Republican, Roman Catholic and openly gay. Garlow is quoted as saying, “I know enough that you cannot have the advancing of the radical homosexual agenda and religious liberty at the same time, in the same nation.”

Gee, I didn’t know that wanting a semblance of equality for yourself was a “radical” agenda. I kind of just thought it was what this nation was founded on. Liberty for all and all that. I must have missed something in history class.

And another thing – how does Carl DeMaio or any other gay person loving who they love infringe on your religious liberty? I didn’t realize that gay people being able to marry made me any less Catholic. And apparently, the Catholic Church didn’t realize it either. Nor did Mr. DeMaio, who identifies as Catholic. I had no idea that love and supporting people who are in love, brought me further away from God. Because I was pretty sure that it was supposed to bring me closer to God. But once again, I should be attending Mass more frequently.

You know who else should have been attending church with more regularity it seems? Mr. Garlow. Or he should be attending some church not his own. Or maybe he should pick up a bible. John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 1 John 4:20: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

I could keep going, but I won’t. I think that sums it up nicely. “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” It doesn’t say the man who loves a woman or the woman who loves a man or the husband who loves a wife or the wife who loves a husband. It says “the one who loves another.” Love is love.

Moral of the story, get with the times Mr. Garlow. Keep religion out of the state and while you’re at it, maybe you should pick up a bible and reevaluate your own religion before you start spewing hate all over the pulpit. The God I grew up knowing and loving, taught us to love one another, above all things. That’s why He sent His son, to reeducate us and remind us that despite our differences, we are all in this together.

 

Oh Yeah…North Korea

The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

~Charlie Chaplin

October 8, 2014

When I was growing up, North Korea was scary. North Korea was perhaps scarier than Russia. There were some places that were bad in my mind. I don’t know if they were bad because the media told me so or my parents did, though I suspect it is because the media told my parents. North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Russia, they were all lumped together in this giant group of places “that might nuke us.”

To my young imagination, Kim Jong-il looked more like a raving mad scientist than a leader of a country. I visualized him as someone like Mr. Hyde. Whenever I heard anyone talk about him I saw a hunchback figure in a black cape hovering over his cauldron of boiling puppies and laughing maniacally. I should also note that he was never Asian when I pictured him. So I got some things wrong.

When Kim Jong-il died and Kim Jong Un took over, I remember being told by someone that Kim Jong Un was worse. While Kim Jong-il just presented a threat of nuclear attack on the United States, Kim Jong Un would do it.

Apparently though, whoever told me that was wrong and Kim Jong Un is not actually doing much of anything, either to attack the United States or to improve the terrible quality of life his people face. [Side note: to read more about this, check out this blog by someone who visited North Korea. I will add that it’s humorous but there is some foul language].

As a matter of fact, no one really knows where Kim Jong Un is right now. Huh?

In this age of technology and information buzzing by us at one million miles per second, how can the leader of an entire nation go missing and us not have any idea where he is?

Well, as it turns out, North Korea is super good at one thing – hiding.

There’s a lot of speculation about what is really going on with him. I’ve heard the word “coup” come out a few times. His number two and three in command recently popped over to South Korea for a little chat about “talks” and still the leader of the country is nowhere to be found. He’s been missing for over a month. In North Korea, where the media lies far worse than they do here, he is apparently suffering some “discomfort.”

I wonder though, if Kim Jong Un has been overthrown – what does it mean for his country? Life can’t possibly get any worse, right? And talks with South Korea have to be a good sign. But then again, if he dies, there is no one to replace him because he doesn’t have an heir, which could send the country into political turmoil. War could result and then, well, us being us, we’d be right back where we were in the 50s.

Good times. In a world where Ebola is raging through Africa, ISIS is marching onto new territories, Russia is invading Ukraine, Palestine and Israel are at a tentative (but likely short-lived peace) and we are stretched too thin, is it wrong of me to say I hope Kim Jong Un really is just undergoing some “discomfort”?

North Korea at night

The bottom half which is lit up is South Korea at night, the top half is North Korea. (c) Department of Defense, 2011, source: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/dprk/dprk-dark.htm

 

That Day, This Day

If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.

~Sandy Dahl

September 11, 2014

Everyone who is old enough to remember remembers where he or she was on that day. I don’t even have to tell most of you what I mean when I say “that day.”

On this day, thirteen years ago, half my lifetime ago, I was in the eighth grade. School had just started, I barely even knew my teachers’ names. It was one of the earlier periods of the day, second or third. Classes were switching. I was at my locker, swapping out my three ring binders and books for a new class. I shut my locker and half turned when I saw a boy jogging down the hallway. The Pentagon had been bombed, he said.

At the time, I didn’t even really know what the Pentagon was. I’d never been to Washington, D.C. I was vaguely aware that it was some kind of building related to the military.

When I went to my next class, the teacher was on the phone with her husband. She was telling him to go to their daughter’s school and get her out. She looked distraught, frantic. She was a tiny thing, a birdlike creature with frizzy brown curled hair. Her hands were trembling when she put down the phone and looked at us, all assembled there like sheep. Her brown eyes were glossy with tears she was holding back.

“We’re not supposed to tell you this, but I’m going to. There has been an attack.” She looked to the TV that was positioned high up, mounted catty-corner on the far right wall. She picked the remote control off her desk and turned it on.

The towers were falling. Towers I’d never seen in a city I’d never been to. But it was America. I’d lived my entire life with my country at war, but now it was different. For the first time since Pearl Harbor, war had come to our soil.

No one knew it then, but everything was about to change.

I remember sitting on my bed in my room that evening, the TV was on, and they were showing the same images over and over again. The towers, proud and strong, then planes and explosions and collapse. I was on the phone with my friend Julia and all I could say was, “It’s crazy, it’s crazy. I don’t believe it, it’s crazy.”

At the time, my father worked at Boeing in their Philadelphia location which is dedicated to making bombs and helicopters for the military. He was on lock down, but had managed to call us and tell us he was okay.

It was later that I learned that the father of one of the students in one of the grades beneath me was not okay. He would never be coming home, because he was the pilot of one of those planes.

September 11, 2001, was not a New York tragedy, or a Washington tragedy. September 11, 2001, was an American tragedy. But it brought us together in a way I’d never seen before. Because it was our tragedy. It was something that we all owned.

In the days that followed, there was much sorrow, but there was also much pride. I don’t know that I’d ever thought about what it meant to be American before, but in those days, I started to think about it. Stores sold out of American flags and an outpouring of support flowed for the families that were affected. First responders lost their lives searching for the dead. Search and rescue dogs and their handlers looked for the living while cadaver dogs and their handlers were brought in from all over the country to search for the dead. Lives were saved, but more were lost.

Thirteen years later, and we have airport restrictions and more bombings, we have the Patriot Act. But we don’t have pride anymore. The togetherness of that day was lost. We say “Never forget 9/11” the same way the Bosnians say “Never forget Srebrenica.” They haven’t.

We have.

It’s not a universal statement of course, many remember and pay homage. But we remember on this day and only this day. Remembrance didn’t even make the front page of CNN’s homepage, the Oscar Pistorius trial did.

After September 11, 2001, it seemed like everyone suddenly cared again. Like we’d woken up from some haze or fog and suddenly recognized that there was a world beyond Hollywood. We cared about our country and our people. We cared about politics and what our government was doing. We cared about security. We cared about things because we’d lost them. But now celebrities are more likely to make the news than another beheading of an American in Syria.

On this day, I wish everyone would remember, but not just this day. September 11th was a terrible day in American history, but in some ways, I miss the days that followed. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. There was a sense of national pride that everyone, immigrant and otherwise, could relate to. I was proud to be American, and so was everyone else.

I wish it didn’t take the deaths of thousands of people for us to stand together.

APTOPIX Sept 11 Construction Glance

(c) Mark Lennihan/AP Photo Nypost.com

 

First Impressions

You can’t make promises all based upon tomorrow

Happiness, security, are words we only borrowed

~ Savatage, Dead Winter Dead

August 29, 2014

I was two and three during the Persian Gulf War. I don’t remember anything about it except seeing tanks driving through the desert on TV, but even that I’m not sure about. Maybe I remember the tanks from the desert wars that followed.

The first time I remember becoming invested in a war was in 1996. I was eight. It was one of the only years of peacetime that I would have. The Bosnian War had just ended, and my parents had just divorced. My father was finally sober, and I was just learning to trust him. He’d bought an album by a band called Savatage which was entitled “Dead Winter Dead”. The album was about the Bosnian War, and it was the first rock album I’d ever heard that told a story that I not only understood, but connected with. It was about a city called Sarajevo, which I learned was the capital of the newly created Bosnia. In that town, raged a war, at the center of which were two religions and overlooking it all was a gargoyle atop an ancient church. The story told of a Bosniak Muslim girl living in Sarajevo who fought against a Bosnian Serb boy (Eastern Orthodox). While the two factions fired rockets at one another, the Bosnian Serbs from outside the town, the Bosniak Muslims from inside, an old man went to the center of Sarajevo on Christmas Eve to play Christmas carols.

Trans Siberian Orchestra tells the story to this day, immortalized through their orchestral version of Carol of the Bells called “Christmas Eve in Sarajevo.” As rockets fall amidst the cello music, the old man is killed. The girl and the boy, who had stopped their war to listen, break their lines and flee together in an odd twist of fate.

The album appealed to my fantasy – the gargoyle sheds a single tear for the old man, and my romance – mortal enemies meet, fall in love, elope.

It also fed my curiosity. It was the only album I would allow my father to play in the car on the drive back to my mom’s house from his house. Every Wednesday, when we went to the library at school, I would pick out any book I could about Bosnia and the war. I would check them out and bring them home and sit at my kitchen table, legs dangling from the chair, feet just above the floor, reading the big letters that tried to put a positive spin on what I would later learn was a hideous thing. In the books I checked out were pictures of children, who looked just like me, with dirt on their faces and ragged, torn clothing. They were looking up into the camera like scared animals. It became an obsession. I would talk to my dad about Bosnia for the entire forty-five minute drive home, while Dead Winter Dead played lightly in the background. I spoke in a quick, excited frenzy, like if I didn’t tell him I would forget all that I’d absorbed.

I don’t know if my parents worried, or if they even noticed. They wouldn’t have talked to one another if they did. The divorce was a nasty affair, but I was happy to have it all the same. The marriage was worse. But because the divorce was less than pleasant, I was court-mandated to attend counseling. For what, I wasn’t sure.

The counselor was a man, and that’s all I know about him. I would be carted to his office by one parent or another at which point I would be ushered into a room. In the center of the room were toys, blocks and rudimentary abacuses, trains and cars, a Barbie or two, with her hair all in knots. There was also a big chair by the window. Every time I went, I would crawl up into the big, beige chair, fold my arms over one another and stare out the window. The counselor, therapist, psychologist, I’m not sure which, would ask me questions, and I would stubbornly refuse to answer. I would bite the inside of my cheeks and stare out the window. I’d think of Bosnia.

I’d think of the pictures in the books that I’d seen, of the children with hollow faces, children just like me, who were simply hoping for a meal, and I knew somewhere, that this was hopelessly ridiculous. I wanted to scream at the man that I was fine, that I was happy that my parents split up, that I didn’t have to see the beatings anymore, that I didn’t have to deal with all the yelling, that I didn’t need to hide under a table and cower or worry about whether or not the cops would show up. Everything in my life, in comparison with those children in those books, was perfect.

At the end of the sessions, the man would cart me out with his hand pressed lightly against my shoulder and shake his head sadly as if I couldn’t feel the motion from above me. My mother always picked me up, and she would take on a worried expression and wring her hands and follow him into the room with the toys, while I went and sat in yet another, less comfortable chair outside. The receptionist would smile and offer me some kind of candy which I would always refuse, and I’d pout and slam my legs against the chair and wait. I’d pout and wonder what could possibly take anyone so long to talk about nothing.

Sometimes, my mom would remember to pack my books, and I’d read about Bosnia while I waited.

Eventually, the court mandate was satisfied, and I didn’t have to see the counselor/therapist/psychologist anymore, and eventually, I stopped obsessing over the Bosnian War. There was a new war by then, we were in Haiti, and then Kosovo. At that point, I had grown accustom to war. It was the state of life, and I had other things to occupy my mind with – school, growing up, boys, my mother’s sudden alcoholism.

I look back at that eight year old girl reading books about the Bosnian War and smile at her. She had no idea what fate would bring her and how important those early lessons about that war would become.