Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years On

For once, the weather matches the mood of the city: somber, remorsefully raining. Not hard, yet, but a constant reminder of the color grey.
And rain helps keep things quiet and creates reflections everywhere. We have mirrors and glass, of course, which give accurate representations in reverse of the things in front of them, but rainwater allows for the pockmarks and scars of injuries long-healed to reveal themselves in distortion.
This September 11 has been harder than any previous since the first anniversary when grief was still so strong. We could rightly be angry at a President who failed us in the most critical moment of this nation's history: the first civilian casualties of a war undeclared since 1993, a tragic loss of life we can only begin to fathom this close to the moment. A terror attack on a scale unlike any before or thankfully since.
This year, we do not have that focus of anger. We do not have the lens of hatred of a failure of a President. We have no distraction. We have no one to blame any longer.
May we now heal. But that healing requires that we pause and remember that which injured us, that which challenged us, that which awoke us from the fantasy that large oceans could protect us from such horrors.
And that makes this anniversary so much harder. It's like having a broken leg and a hangnail. You may notice the hangnail more because your fingers are more sensitive, you are more aware of it, but once the hangnail is cut, the leg throbs worse than before.
In President Obama, we have someone who has rightly reconnected us to the Muslim world, to show a face that for eight long, grueling years, was hidden behind a cowboy mask of bravado and bullshit.
In President Obama, we have someone who has challenged us to dig a little deeper in ourselves and come up with that uniquely American spirit of service not to our country, altho that is part of it, but service to our neighbors.
For 150 years, this nation had no real formal structure in place to take care of the indigent, the needy, the sick. We relied on private foundations, churches, neighbors and family to see to those who needed help. And for 150 years, we saw that this system was deeply flawed, with actual starvation going on in rural America, elderly dropping dead in our streets, evicted for back-rent, sick and dying already for lack of healthcare, the poor without a safety net resorting to begging on the streets.
As recently as the nineteenth century, nearly 75 years after independence was declared in fact, poverty in the United States including a feudal system, with poor tenant farmers paying rent to work a lord's land.
Even today, even with government programs, about 15% of people are living in poverty, and about 12% need assistance securing food every day. That's more than 30 million people. Unsurprisingly, that's roughly the baseline of people who simply cannot afford medical insurance (another 20 million, mostly young, don't want to pick insurance up). If you can't afford food, you sure as hell aren't paying for insurance.
It's going to take more, and it's going to take private works, hand-in-hand with public works, to make this happen. And that's where we come in.
The National Day of Service, passed by Congress under Bush and signed into law by Obama, is today. September 11. And while the temptation is to mourn and grieve, a higher calling awaits us: to channel that anger and grief to help others. To remember that one of the hidden tragedies of September 11 was how little we truly care about our fellow man until tragedy strikes.
You don't have to go hand the homeless guy on the corner a twenty. You can do good by doing what's right for you to do, even if it seems insignificant in the greater scheme of things. Make the world a little better, a little easier, and it all gets paid forward.
For instance, let's say you like football. You can find opportunities (that website I referenced two paragraphs earlier has a searchable database) to coach impoverished children.
Doesn't sound like it will change the world, but if it keeps one kid motivated to finish school and go to college on a football scholarship, that's one more kid who stands a pretty good chance of not ending up in a soup kitchen, meaning that soup kitchen can feed someone else even more needy.
You can become a mentor if you have mad coding skillz. Or you can take your camera and record the good deeds done by others and give them desperately needed exposure.
This isn't hard. This is easy. This isn't a thousand points of light, but millions of beacons lighting the landscape and bringing those in the dark of poverty and hunger and homelessness into our family. It's a welcome to those who struggled to get here and struggle here, and yes, maybe a few who got here under the radar benefit but so what? Those people die too, and would you rather bury the body or help them get back home, or better, get a real legitimate life here to contribute to society unquestioningly?
We don't have to be such an angry nation. We don't have to give into the venom of the right and the far left. We here in the mushy marshmallow middle can change the world, and fuggedabout those jerks who stand athwart history crying "STOP!"
We'll pave them into the field of daisies we'll plant.