9/11/11: The Dragon Doesn’t Always Win
Ten years ago today, I woke with dread.
No, I hadn’t heard the news. I just hit my head on the top bunk and realized I had no idea what I was going to do for the chapel service I was supposed to lead that morning.
I shrugged on my backpack, hoisted up my thirty-pound-nursing-textbooks (word to the wise: those of you going to Nursing school, prepare to invest in a decent masseuse, physiotherapist, or chiropractor), and hoped my very strong coffee would give me inspiration as I walked the flowering-cherry-tree-lined path from McMillan Hall to Neufeld Science Center.
Other bleary-eyed students joined me, coffee mug in one hand, the other rubbing their eyes. Obviously, none of us were built for 8 am classes.
None of us residents, I should say.
A commuter friend saw me and bounced along the path.
I realized as I got closer she wasn’t smiling. “Did you hear the news?” she puffed out.
I hadn’t. TWU campus life was often dubbed ‘the bubble.’ We didn’t get the greatest radio reception. Only a few of us had a TV. Most of us didn’t have time to watch said TV. And we were all in that stage of life that, let’s face it, is hard to see past anything that directly affects us.
We often speak of American ignorance of Canada. But sometimes it goes both ways. Because I had no idea what the ‘twin towers’ were. But I knew, as soon as Karen told her story, that it didn’t matter I had no idea what I was going to do for chapel.
It would have been scrapped anyways.
I went straight to Student Life after my class. Our mentor and chapel co-ordinator sat at his desk and stared blankly at his computer screen.
He glanced at me when I walked in, teary-eyed, and motioned with his hand to the video on his screen.
And I learned what the twin towers were, as they came crumbling to the place we now call ‘Ground Zero.’
So much of our North American lives have changed in the past decade. We’ve lost thousands of lives, and we haven’t always known why we lost those people. We’ve become more fearful, more cynical, more skeptical of those in charge. We’re somehow more patriotic, more intolerant, and yet more politically correct. We scour movies set in New York to see if the World Trade Center is in the Skyline, and know instantly if that shot was done pre- or post- 9/11. Travel has become exceedingly difficult, especially cross-border travel.
My American fiance and I learned just how difficult it would be that first weekend after 9/11, when we attempted to go see his parents in Portland, and found ourselves in a four-hour border lineup, the end of which saw our car strip-searched and our situation interrogated. Gotta love those cross-ahem-cultural relationships.
We’ve learned much about fear, but also about courage. We’ve learned that courage exists even in the face of hate, even in the midst of confusion.
But if 9/11 has taught us anything, I believe it’s shown us how much there are just no guarantees.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, TWU’s student population was almost 40% American. On September 11, 2001, I was surrounded by people who were either from areas directly affected by the attacks, or who felt just as affected, because some crazy people attacked symbols of all their country stood for: free trade, liberty, the ability to defend itself.
And much of what I heard that first day, in those early hours of loss, were, how dare they do this to us? We’re the United States of America!
I understand that feeling. If some random crack-pot group, or other country, even, launched an attack on the CN Tower, or the harbour of Vancouver, or anything that represented the essence of my country, if they cheered as they killed thousands upon thousands of our citizens, I would feel a measure of, ‘excuse me, what did I ever do to you?’
But I think this response – though valid – actually shows just how lucky we are to live here.
Recently a picture comparing four riots circulated the internet. Three of the riots happened in countries where the citizens fought for basic freedoms. The fourth was, of course, a terrible view of the city I love on one of our worst days.
The picture shows that, what we considered so awful, happened only for a night, and over something trivial, while many others see such violence on a daily or weekly basis.
We think we’re safe over here. Or, we think we have a right to be safe. We search for ‘The Canadian Dream,’ or ‘The American Dream,’ that really, we were never promised.
So much of the world struggles to find food. So many children risk their lives just to bring water to their families. So many people hope that they’ll make it through the day with all their family in tact.
Yet, here in the bubble of North America, we act indignant if anyone interferes with our quest for health, wealth, and prosperity.
What makes us think we’re entitled to this?
Yes, I wish we were entitled to it. I wish the whole world got to live an easy life. And yet, we know evil still exists. We try to eradicate it, one person at a time, but its still out there. As the Prime Minister of Britain said after their own days of riots, ‘we have a moral problem.’
We do. It’s not always just outside of us. Sometimes it’s inside. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all capable of great evil.
I recently read the book, Mindhunter, by a former FBI special agent responsible for profiling the most violent serial killers of the past three decades. In it, he tells of a cartoon perched above a colleague’s desk, showing the dragon slaying the hero. The tagline: sometimes the dragon wins.
Unfortunately, that’s true. Sometimes, evil gets it’s way – for now.
It’s those moments that we think the dragon has won, that we really need each other.
My American husband tells me that the people he remembered today are not only the ones who lost their lives in the tragedy, but the ones who helped pick up the pieces. He thinks of the firefighters, the doctors, the nurses, the ambulance drivers, the police officers, and the volunteers who risked their lives to help rescue others. He thinks of the middle-of-nowhere community in Nova Scotia who welcomed rerouted US flights, and the small town who fed and nurtured these – by definition – refugees, until they could return home safely. He thinks of the people who were welcomed to our city, and of those who housed them in a season of terror.
And I remembered the thousands of times I heard the words, ‘Amber Alert,’ these past two days.
This morning, I woke not only the video tributes of 9/11, but the knowledge that a three-year-old boy abducted in the last 48 hours from his home in Sparwood, BC, returned home today.
Of all the children that disappear and are never found, of all the people whose bodies may be discovered after their families frantically searched for them, little Kienan Hebert gets to come home, safe.
In light of the knowledge that there are no guarantees, that makes his rescue just a little more powerful, somehow.
We don’t know how he returned home. It might even be that his abductor returned him to his family. But we do know that the entire province of BC seemed united in sentiment and effort to help. And in the moments that it seems the dragon wins, we need our communities – occasionally even communities of strangers – to stick together.
Because the dragon doesn’t always win.
And, sometimes, when we stick together, we may even motivate those who’ve done evil, to stop. United We Stand, right, America?
So, if 9/11 has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need a guaranteed life to be happy, or safe. In fact, as the last ten years has taught us, it’s often in the lack of guarantees that we find real, unshakable joy.
And, isn’t that really the Canadian – or American – dream?
So today, I am glad that my family is playing happily at my feet. I am grateful that I have a place to live and food to eat. I am grateful that for now, all is well. Another day has come.
And – as I remember those whose days were cut short ten years ago – I intend to enjoy the hours, days, and weeks given me.
Because none of these days are guaranteed. But they are made a little more possible by the heroes who choose to fight for the great freedom we’ve been given.