9/11 and the Forgiveness Gene

Maybe we'll be able to keep this civil tone in politics now.

But that isn't what happened.

None of that happened.

At best, we were encouraged to go shopping.

No sense of "we're all in this together" lasted past the occasional "We're all New Yorkers Now" bumper stickers. No one (with the possible and very local exception of Rudy Giuliani) worked to draw people together to support one another, to see ourselves in the faces of those who lost loved ones, to acknowledge any sense of "there but for the Grace of God . . ." And to me, that's a sadly missed opportunity. We had a chance to get our empathy gene back, and we blew it.

The last ten years have found our country more divided than we have been since the Gilded Age—divided politically as well as economically. I hear people screaming. I hear lots of people judging. I hear lots of vitriol and nastiness and pain.

But I never hear it from real people.

The actual people I know—whether we agree or disagree politically—are all kind, gentle, generous folks who are trying hard to make a good life for their families against ridiculous economic and societal odds. Everyone I know works day and night to make sure their kids are safe, well-educated, well-fed, and as decently socialized as you can expect to be in our world. I don't know anyone who's pro-abortion any more than I know someone who's anti-choice. Those aren't our words. Those are words that have been put in our mouths through sound bites and media machines.

And, lest I come off as another judge-y voice, I know media people too, and they're working just as hard to be good and make things better as we are. Maybe even harder.

I think that's the important thing. None of these people are bad. Or evil. Or unworthy of my sympathy, empathy, or time. Even if we don't agree on everything, these people I know? these are good people.

Pogo said, rather famously, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

There's a "dead hand" that pushes us along, riling folks up about conspiracies that don't exist, evil that isn't out there, and threats that aren't even at the level of pipe dreams. But they get repeated in the echo chamber that is our 24/7 news environment. And we listen. And as we hear, we believe. And then it filters down, this casual cruelty we ingest from the variously polarized news venues. It filters down until we believe it's okay

  1. for us to judge those who are mourning.
  2. for us to judge the poor (the parents of my students were working many jobs-read Nickle and Dimed).
  3. for us to judge families who are wrestling with a family member who is mentally ill or struggling with addiction.
  4. for us to judge how people live their lives, in their homes, away from our line of vision.
  5. for us to judge how other people do their jobs, especially when we've never held that job ourselves.

And the more we judge, the more we believe we're right, the louder we get, the less we listen.

I never learned anything from talking loudly (though, G-d knows, I've tried).

So that's my forgiveness message to everyone and to myself too (because I've been as guilty as the next). Let's give everyone a pass, shall we? Let's assume the best, that we're all doing the best we can with the odds stacked against us. Let's find a way to be a little more generous of spirit and understanding and, yes, forgiving of one another's choices.

To those who are still grieving 9/11 and its aftermath, I give you my prayers for peace. You are not harpies. You are not weak. You are you, and you are doing the best you can. To those who are grieving about, well, anything at all, I hope beyond hope that the people who surround you give you the space and grace you need to heal. It is a process; G-d only knows how long it will take. It's not up to us to judge.

At least, it shouldn't be.

I can always imagine . . .

9/11/2011 4:00:00 AM
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