Collecting My Thoughts

With my deadline approaching for this month’s column, I was all set to write something about the importance of adequate City funding for parks and cultural facilities.  Maybe next month.

I can’t imagine that there’s anyone in America with a chance to fill some space in a publication with their own thoughts who doesn’t feel compelled to write something about what happened on September 11, although events will have proceeded rapidly by the time you read this.

Maybe it’s therapeutic, maybe it’s an urge to reach out to a larger community – I don’t know, but somehow it feels like an obligation, not one item off of a menu of possible column topics.  Where to begin?

How about right here in East Dallas, our home and the part of town I usually try to write about, where for most of us the biggest security issue used to be losing a VCR or a lawn mower to an otherwise-relatively-harmless thief.  Ever since the hideous events of that Tuesday morning, however, some part of me is now always aware of the threats that can come from farther away and strike unexpectedly and much more dangerously.

Our days of feeling apart from the world, almost invincible, secure in our leafy neighborhood safely in the interior of the world’s only superpower, may be over.

I also am now acutely aware of going to my day job every weekday morning on the 30th floor of a very visible office building downtown, and you can bet that my view out my window looks different to me now – vaguely unsettling at times to think how high up we are, with a wary eye cast outward at the sound of a jet engine.

Worst of all is the searingly painful heartbreak at the thought of the innocent lives lost, and in such a horrific, terrifying fashion.  The buildings can be rebuilt, the perpetrators hunted down, but the thought of the victims will haunt me, I think, for a very long time.  I’m a relatively new (almost six months) father of a baby girl.  Maybe because of that, the worst pain of all comes from thinking of the children involved – the toddlers on one of the planes; the three Washington middle school students on another, beginning a field trip to California, not even with their parents at the end; the children who were traumatized by witnessing the atrocities, either on TV or even near the scene in Manhatten;  or the children who lost parents in the attack, like the little girl whose relatives put up flyers seeking her missing father with the title “Have you seen my daddy?”

Writing this and conjuring up those emotions all over again brings back my rage and fury, too, against anyone who had anything at all to do with this plot.  I’m not proud of my more lurid fantasies involving cruise missiles and every other kind of high tech explosives in our inventory, but I’d bet I’m not the only one to have them.

In my more thoughtful moments, though, I also can find plenty of worthy questions that our leaders, and we as citizens, will be wrestling with in the years ahead.  For example, how did our foreign intelligence and our domestic security fail us so badly, and what can we do about it?  Does pulling back on nuclear arms control treaties make us more secure – or less?  Is this the beginning of a new, or more accurately the renewal of an old, “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West?

We need to be very smart and calculating about all of these things, and others.  For one, we will need to be patient with more inconvenience for the sake of better security, for example at the airport, but we have to draw the line at anything that would infringe on our constitutional rights, otherwise what are we defending?

And just as we should remember that the Muslims and Arab-Americans among us are almost all here because they want to be and are just as peace-loving as the rest of us, I believe that most Muslims, Arab and non-Arab, are as appalled and threatened by the terrorism of these psychopathic fanatics as we are.  If we allow ourselves to typecast a whole group, here and abroad, because of the actions of a few, we descend to the level of the extremists – and that’s someplace we don’t want to be. *

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