Sep 12

Take Me Away, Country Roads (or: If On a September Eleventh a Traveler)

It is morning in America. Early morning here, just past six on a Friday morning. I’d normally be just stirring, an hour’s timezone west, wondering what the last day of the week was about to bring at work, wondering if yet another gloomy looking Friday for the country was going to pan out that way. Duck and Cover would be a toss-up between a failing financial institution and the impending doom of another poised hurricane, and likely end up with a nod to both as those punny animals mixed their disasters once more.

Instead, I’m wide awake in the wilds of Colorado. This is Sarah Palin country, they would tell me, where free-spirited mavericks who believe in war without end run around in cowboy boots. Never mind that a woman Sarah Palin’s age in a Target parking lot in a tiny town was on her cell phone talking about trying to see Barack Obama. Never mind the details. We are supposed to be in a house divided along clearly definable boundaries and I am on the “other” side. Never mind that I probably won’t be voting for Obama either and am tempted to write in Mickey Mouse when I fulfill my obligation at the polls in less than 60 days. With many in the far left clamoring behind a ridiculed ex-Democrat, with Ralph Nader well over any sort of hill of reasonability, and with Obama once again on the waffle-train to a platform of bombing Afghanistan into the 6th century BC, I’m probably okay. Once again, shockingly, no one on the ballot really speaks for me. And don’t talk to me about lessers of evils. You could go blind trying to parse out distinctions between evil in this country.

But I’m not here to talk about my own consternation in a few short weeks. I’m here to talk about getting to rural Colorado, about flying to Denver and driving to Steamboat Springs. The flags were not only at half-mast yesterday, they were at this bizarre-seeming quarter-mast, as though someone hadn’t quite finished the job of taking them down. As though the thunderstorms rolling across the Rockies had just set in as the flags were coming down (or going up) and those next to the lightning rods had run for the hills or cover and forgetting all about Old Glory tacking in the breeze. In mid-morning, sometime between the breakfast burrito devoid of green chile (which always contains pork in Colorado) and the Target for Obama, I had to inquire why the flags were all at half-mast.

“Who died?” I asked my traveling companions.

Trying to restrain a look of emergent horror, Em’s Dad offered in the plainest tone possible, “It’s September eleventh.”

“Oh, right.” Feeling sheepish, I wanted the subject disappeared. The whole interaction indicated that I represented the worst fears of God-fearing Americans: I had already forgotten. Not that anyone aware of such a date on this continent could ever truly forget, but somehow in bumbling through security to board a sleepy empty plane (I mean, really, 25-30 people on a plane that can hold 250) I hadn’t thought of the date. It was a day off of work, after all. The date matters a lot less on the first day of vacation. I hadn’t even written a Duck and Cover, with no time in the extremely early morning to make scanning noises while our guest slept next to the computer (I was still steaming from my lost half-post on Em’s laptop). So many chances to remember, but I had slipped all of them. So much for never forget, just 7 years later.

But seven years? What’s in seven years? 9/11 was “The New Pearl Harbor”, after all, which puts us at December 7, 1948. My Dad had been born, Brandeis founded, WWII three full years in the rear-view. No doubt 12/7 was marked as a somber occasion and the flags were probably at half-mast (are they still? they must be…). But the country was ready to move up and move on, already eying the fifties and recovery and an era not entirely defined by the past. And there had been further horrors and atrocities after 1941… surely on both sides, and more from the USA (Dresden, Hiroshima, etc.), but at least there had been give and take. The promised continued terrorism and antagonism hasn’t really followed against our brave nation this time around.

And yet it’s hard to imagine 2008 not being continually defined as the whole decade has been, hijacked by an obsession with terrorism. It may not matter how long we go without a renewal of the blood of patriots, so long as we keep shipping our good boys off to fight their evil boys. Never mind that our boys are often twice the age and education of their boys. If you oppose the war but support our troops, then you must doubly support their troops. They’ve been hoodwinked just as much, if not more. Read Bel Canto (thanks Fish). They’re even younger, even more impressionable, even more convinced that what they’re doing is right. And to boot, they’re actually “defending” their homeland, or at least fighting in it. They’re not still punishing foreigners for some esoteric and unrelated battle seven years old; they’re actually fending off invaders.

By every standard we have of justifying war, you have to support the “terrorists”.

Not that I advocate this. Let me underline this, everyone, I am not advocating support of the terrorists. For the same reason I don’t “support the troops”. No matter how young and manipulated, you should know better. God and your conscience are not dead to you and you should never kill for any reason. Never point a gun and threaten. Never train for battle. You just know better, no matter how little you are attributed to know.

So back to Colorado, with the special super-half-mast for September eleventh, me steaming at myself in the van for being so clumsy as to admit violation of “never forget” in the presence of people who will vote for Sarah Palin. The signs of foreclosure and failure are more subtle in the wide-open spaces than they were in the close-clustered communities outside Sacramento in the summer. People may be hurting, but it’s harder to see under the big sky. No matter how much lightning may be descending, how many storms on the horizon, how much distant events may be conspiring against one.

The raindrops pound the window, trickle down the side, fly away in the artificial machine-winds. Before the day’s end, there will be Mexican food and bowling and laughter and good discussion of the day’s events. What can be more hopeful than a wedding and the surrounding activities? What can represent more investment in the future?

It’s still September. And I am undecided.

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