Sunday, September 30, 2007

Loss of Innocence

I have been thinking a lot of the war: how we got in to it; how will we get out of it: the enormous cost of lives, sanity, dollars - can we reverse the tide?

Eugenia Collier, in her short story, “Marigolds,” posits that it is impossible to be both innocent and compassionate. Only those who have experienced the vicissitudes and sufferings in their own lives can exercise compassion, have the ability to empathize or feel another’s pain.

I lost my innocence at the age of fifteen when I realized my father was human. If he could be wrong once, and he was so wrong, then all the order of things upon which I had built my life, was shaky. I could no longer depend upon things to work the way I had thought was forever. As parents, we protect our young children from hurt. A scraped knee is kissed and made all better; a wounded ego is held, caressed and loved until perfect peace is restored. But my innocence was lost as my father, the bedrock of my fifteen years, turned to sand. No hug or kiss could recreate the rock; it had crumbled.

Ironically, this calamitous event prepared me for life. It was the beginning of the very important lesson that “we are all human.” I, too, was headed for failure, mistakes, and wounds that would create the distinct lines in my heart. As a sixty three year old, I have compassion for people with shared experiences. I know the emptiness of losing a child, the guilt of a failed marriage, the agony of physical pain, and the helplessness in caring for an aging parent.

 But until September 11, I had no real compassion for victims of terrorism. I paused, ever so briefly, at the news of cars blowing up in Ireland or zealots with bombs strapped to their young bodies, blowing up pizza parlors. Too bad, I would think. How stupid; why can’t they learn to get along.

Now the “they” is “we,” and because of this shared experience, my innocence has been replaced by compassion. I devour the life stories from that infamous September day. The young man racing to catch his flight before the doors closed; best friends booking two different flights because they didn’t want to travel together; a young woman who discovered she was pregnant on September 13 – and her husband will never know; the young students specially selected to attend a National Geographic program; the firemen… As I listen to their stories and watch their loved ones, I whisper, “I love you. I don’t understand why you had to die. I am so sorry. What can I do for you?”

America has lost her innocence. Our perfect world order that had once naively assured all of us that our land was sacred, beyond the reach of the madness of the rest of the world, has crumbled. The bedrock of our belief that we could not be violated has turned to sand. And now it is time to begin to etch our American heart lines.

America has so much heart. New York led the way, and all of America joined in on a national hug drenched in universal tears. Our lives have forever changed and we can never revert to our infancy – our innocence. The car bomb in Ireland killed someone’s father; is it our father? A young girl tasted her last pizza, our daughter or our sister? Kabul is bombed, and a mother has lost her son; or is it our son? A man dies of Anthrax, and a child has lost his grandfather, our grandfather?  This is why the madness, the killing, the war must stop. We are a part of something larger – something that goes far beyond national boarders.

We have lost our innocence and with that loss has come the understanding that the world will never be perfectly all right. We are all human, after all. However, we have enough love to share, and it is this universal love force, etched deeply in each human heart, that will allow us to ease the pain in others. We must face our new lives with compassion that says if you suffer, I will feel your pain and hold you until you’re stronger. Then you will pass that hug on to someone else who walks through your life.

 We must all be givers of those hugs, for surely, we all have need for a hug sometime along the way. It is impossible to be both innocent and compassionate. On September 11, 2001 we lost our innocence. When will we become a compassionate nation?


Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy,
I've been mesmorized by your "Loss of Innocence" piece. It is thoughtful and shows a maturity that many of us have developed because of Sept 11th and the stupid war our leaders try to convince us is a necessary war. I loved reading what you wrote and cannot help but compare it to what I wrote two weeks following the World Trade Center attacks. I'm enclosing that September, 2001 piece.

by Shirley

No one can kill Americans and brag about it.
No one.
Ronald Reagan, American President
After the attack on Libya, March 1986

It happened. I can’t change it. You can’t change it. God can’t change it.
It happened. It happened from within and we must live with the consequences.
What a rude awakening to realize that our country was so easily attacked. What a shock to know that our own weapons were used against us. Terrorists stole my security blanket. It’s time for me to grow up.
I was born during the depression, reared during World War II, and was a young woman during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I never felt vulnerable. After all, two majestic oceans separated me from them.
How could I be so naïve? War is no longer the game once played by little boys. There are no tin soldiers, only flesh and blood. On September 11, 2001 flesh and blood splattered all over our nation. There are no plastic guns, only jumbo jets ramming into New York City towering buildings that crashed down into our living rooms. Terrorists who want to annihilate our Western culture did this. Furthermore, they rammed insult down our throats by crashing into the Pentagon. My God, the Pentagon contains the offices of the U.S. Department of Defense. They wanted a shell shock nation; instead they got a nation of heroes.
No one can paralyze Americans and brag about it. No one.
Glued to the television set, I watched the horrors of a madman. Amid destruction, I heard cries, I smelled fear, I tasted soot and I felt grief shared by all Americans. I listened to each new development, political analysts, specialists on terrorism and to our leaders. New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani said terrorism can’t stop us and President George W. Bush said our lives must go on. I turned off the television and walked to the window. I looked outside and yes, life was going on.
A full-cheek squirrel was skittering across the top of our fence in search of a storage place for his treasure. With dirt strewn on the deck, Charlie and I knew he had already squirreled away some nuts into one of our flower bowls. I watched the bushy-tail critter and indeed knew it was not the end of the world. Winter would come and he was preparing for it. He also told me that it would be a long, cold winter. In the Northeast, Yankees always said, “The bushier the tail, the colder the winter. The sooner the storage, the longer the winter.” When this season passes another will come. Yes, life will go on. And mine has.
Charlie and I attended a Concert in the Park by the California Symphony. Four thousand people recited the Pledge of Allegiance, listened to the music of American composers and sang patriotic songs. At times we clapped our hands to the music, at times we wept but at all times we were proud Americans. No matter what our size, shape, color or religion, we were one and for the first time, we shared a prejudice. We are hated by the terrorists. Never has prejudice been so evil as on September 11, 2001.
During the concert, I watched red balloons slip from the hands of children and soar to the sky. Their string tails waved and taunted as if to say, “Come catch me if you can.” Families picnicked. Parents rocked babies in their arms. Young and old couples held hands. Many women were pregnant. Yes, life goes on.
When dusk came, the stage lit up. Darkness followed and suddenly the trees surrounding the perimeter of the park sparkled with little glittering lights. Soon after that, we were reminded of California’s energy crisis. The stage lights and microphones failed to work but the orchestra played on. Power returned and violinist Jeremy Cohen transported us to another world. During his last medley, power failed again. We sat in pitch-blackness and listened to Mr. Cohen never missing a beat in his fiddling arrangement of “Hot Soup.” The music went on. The energy crisis continues and yes, life goes on.
I’m not sure what life will bring but I will be prepared for the tears and sacrifices. Life will go on but it will be different for all of us. Terrorists have shown us danger. My Pollyanna ideologies are buried under the World Trade Center towers. It is best they stay there. I have grown up.
No one can take freedom from America and brag about it. No one.

In freedom we’re born and in freedom we’ll live.
words by John Dickson

What I wrote was bravado that I and so many Americans felt in Sept. 2001. Is it this bravado that blinded our leaders into feeling that they could invade Iraq and get away with it? Is it this bravado that keeps our young men there?

I thought I had grown up in 2001 but oh, my, how much more I have grown since then. No one can kill Americans and brag about it? I'm no so sure anymore. In freedom we're born and in freedom we'll live? How I pray that is forever true. The only truth that I surely do know is, yes, our lives must go on.

Love, Shirley

nanwebware said...

Shirley- I loved your 9/11 piece and your comments reflecting back six years later. That bravado you speak of -- that posturing - that indignation that anyone DARE attack us has taken a huge toll on families and our country. I agree "we must go on," but I only hope we will be able to find leaders who will help us move on with dignity and compassion for ourselves and the rest of the world. Thank you for your insights.

Anonymous said...

Your "Loss of Innocence" essay reminded me of one of the things I love most about you, Nance, your ability to fill your life with wonderful people and fun things, and still find time to reflect. If every human being had your heart and compassion, we would have found the key to global peace.

This essay was particularly thought provoking. I don't agree with Eugenia Collier that it is impossible to be both innocent and compassionate. I think it's more a question of imagination. The youngest of children, with no personal experience of suffering, can rush to help someone in need if he or she can imagine the hurt. As for America, I don't think this country was ever innocent. There is unnecessary, cruel and calculated blood on our hands from the start. Optimistic? Yes. And perhaps it is our optimism that has been slowly eroding, although I see it on a local level, where caring people are still certain their efforts can make a difference. But if there is to be any hope for this planet earth it rests, I agree, on the premise that we humans must come to understand that, as you say, when a child dies in Iraq or anywhere else, it is our child. We have to universally respect our differences and ensure that there is zero tolerance for war or aggression of any kind. Remember that wonderful poem by John Donne: "No man is an island, no man stands alone. Each man's joy is joy to me, each man's grief is my own. We need one another, so I will defend each man as my brother, each man as my friend." Compassion is a necessary component if this is ever to happen, and Haden put it well when he wrote that compassion will come from "solidarity and unity." I agree but solidarity and unity not of thought but in the belief that people everywhere should be able to live their lives in peace and in the way they choose, so long as they don't endanger the well-being and peace of others. Will this ever happen? I don't know. Not in our lifetime, but some day in the future perhaps willing hearts and minds will come together with necessity and the earth will be at peace.