Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Day When Hate Changed The World

Nine years ago today, I was an eighteen-year-old student barely into my first year of university.  As I had decided to earn my B.A. at the university in my hometown, I was dropped off at school that morning by my mother; I strolled in with a few books in my shoulder bag, an English Toffee cappuccino (courtesy of that questionably grand Canadian institution, Tim Hortons) in one hand and an orange in the other—my usual breakfast at the time.  As I had about half an hour before I had to head to my first class, I wandered into the student lounge to have my breakfast; it was usually quiet at that time of day.

It was still quiet, save for the room's two TV sets, both of which were tuned to CNN; hardly an unusual occurrence.  But this morning, the room was full.  As I made my way over towards the larger of the two TVs, I realized why as I saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center.  All thoughts of breakfast forgotten, I watched the broadcast in horror.

In class or out of it, the terrorist attacks of that day were all that anyone could talk about.  The story soon took shape—another crashed plane at the Pentagon, another plane that was crashed in Pennsylvania to ensure that it wouldn't hit its intended target.  Everyone was looking for whoever was to blame; a lot of terrorist organizations tried to take the credit, but in the end it came out that Al-Qaeda was responsible.  I had a choir practice that night.  Again, while we were on our mid-practice break it seemed to be all that anyone could talk about.  And that night, even my family—my staunchly Canadian family—watched the then-current President of the U.S.A., George W. Bush, make his formal address.

I think I am hardly unique in saying that I will never forget that day or what came after.  It's come to be the defining event of the past decade, after all; security measures have been becoming ever more drastic since then, and ever so invasive—look no further than the scanners that can look right through clothing and you'll see what I mean.  The animosity between certain Christians and certain Muslims hasn't been this widely bitter or violent since the Crusades (and given how there were times when both Crusader and Saracen saw the greater merit of relative peace and co-operation, it may even be worse now).  Ten years ago, that asshole pastor from Florida probably wouldn't have even thought about burning copies of the Koran.  It wouldn't have been as strong (or as publicized!) a statement as it is now.  And as the cry gradually turned from "Get Osama!  He did it!" to "Get Saddam!  He's got Weapons of Mass Destruction and we know this, because we say so!" the world was once again plunged into war—a war which I have long believed to be both unjust and unnecessary.

I can't help but think that what happened nine years ago today is a true demonstration of the power of hate.  Those who use hatred and anger like a tool, those who want to make other people afraid to step out of their own homes, those who want to use fear and anger as a system of control—September 11, 2001 was their day.  As we watched the twin towers fall and saw the damage to the Pentagon and saw the other plane where it crashed in Pennsylvania, anger and fear were two of the most common reactions.  If this can happen, what else will?  And we were told that to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again, we—even up here in Canada—would have to give up just a little bit of freedom and just a little bit more of our privacy.  But there's nothing to be afraid of if you've got nothing to hide.

Yeah, right.

It's time to answer that now with the power of love.  We saw some of that in the days just after the attacks, too; all the people who volunteered to help out at Ground Zero, all the outpourings of support for the victims and those who were left without loved ones on that day, and the help given to people who were stranded by the groundings of non-emergency civilian aircraft—those are expressions of the best of the human spirit.  If we could learn to tap into that more consistently without the need for a huge, terrifying tragedy to bring it out in us—if more people could learn to get along regardless of race, religion, or any other classification which tends to set people against each other—if we could learn to forgive what is in the past and try to make the world a better place for a change—then we might just be OK in the end.

I know that this is hardly a realistic hope.  The hatred, war, violence and aggression of today has not slipped under my radar.  But that's the thing about hope—as unrealistic as it may be, and as ineffective a comfort as it is, it endures.  And sometimes that's all we need to effect a real change in the world.

On September 11, 2001 hate changed the world.  Will you join me in trying to help change it with love?

We can do no great things; only small things with great love.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

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