I watched two guys chest bump in front of the White House last night.
What a sight.
I wondered if this is who we are or is this who we've become?
Recently someone named J left a comment on an old blog post that I didn't publish because the comment made me feel ashamed. J said I was vulgar as usual. I read it with embarrassment. Vulgar. That's one of my mother's words - a put down. She hates it when I use the word fuck, no matter how cleverly I might use it in a sentence. She says it's vulgar. Anyway, that comment has made me not want to write here anymore because it's true and I don't like it, but can I change?
I am vulgar. We are vulgar. Making jokes about sex and matters better left private is vulgar. I stand accused and offer no defense. Celebrating anyone's death is vulgar. Yeah, I know - he started it! But it's still wrong to treat such an occasion like a frat party. In my mind, the only thing separating us from the people who celebrate American deaths by taking to the streets and waving flags, shooting off guns and fireworks and chanting with tears of joy in their eyes is that Americans, as a rule, don't ululate. And most of us don't do it because we never learned how.
So we chest bump.
Now we can expect at least a week of the twenty-four hour news cycle giving a million different takes on the situation and what it all means. And after twenty minutes, it will all sound the same.
While MathMan and I waited for the announcement last night, I must have consumed another four hundred calories from the dwindling chocolate drawer. I meant to be reading, but when I saw that Chuck Todd had been jerked from bed so fast he hadn't even had time to put in his contacts, I knew whatever was about to be announced would be worth staying up for and would require food. Big occasions always require food.
So I blame that new pound on Osama Bin Laden, too. Let us hope that this is the last of the man's wicked influence on our planet.
I told the children who had gone to bed in case they wanted to watch the President's speech. They did. Like most Americans, I suspect, we were each reminded of where we were on September 11, 2001. The only person in the house who doesn't remember that day vividly is Sophia who was only two and was taking a nap when the Twin Towers fell.
MathMan and Nate were home. Nate had afternoon kindergarten and was playing in the living room when the news came on the television. He and MathMan watched the coverage and later MathMan would get a wee tongue lashing from Nate's kindergarten teacher for having allowed Nathan to watch as the Twin Towers pancaked down and sent terrified people running through the streets of Manhattan in front of billows of smoke. Chloe was at school, sitting in class. Her school was two miles from O'Hare Airport and the building went on lockdown in case O'Hare turned out be involved somehow. I sat at my desk at The Lion's Club, catching up on the phone with Mary Catholic, a former colleague, before I got busy with work. NPR was on in the background and I turned it up to listen to the report that a plane had hit one of the Towers. I remember thinking it was probably a small plane. It would never have occurred to me in that moment that it was a passenger jet filled with people and piloted into the tower on purpose. The very idea would have been too much to contemplate.
After a few eerie days of driving past a silent O'Hare on my way to work, and hearing the sounds of fighter jets above the clouds as I stood with my friend Ann while we waited for our kids at soccer practice, life got back to normal for us. Planes took off again and sometimes rattled our windows as they landed. The flags that had sprouted from the front porches of nearly every house slowly disappeared, replaced by Christmas lights. Very few us of could forget that for many families, this national tragedy had exacted a toll so deep, so sad that it was hard to imagine. Most of the time, I didn't want to imagine.
Our foreign policy became a game of who had the bigger cock. Plans - new or well-established and waiting for the right time - were put into place. We became a country where most citizens fought wars by slapping a yellow ribbon magnet on the backs of their gas guzzling SUVs without a single thought of the irony involved. You weren't anybody without your flag lapel pin. We were loaded for be-turbined bear and absolute in our absolutes - you were either with us or against us, motherfuckers. Even a war veteran pussy like John Kerry with his nuanced, thinky approach to reaction wasn't man enough to sort this out. We needed brush-clearing cowboys and their The Penguin-like out of the side of their mouth talkers with vast stock in Halliburton to keep us safe. We needed clarity, not truth.
Until we didn't.
We got to see what Americans do with Nationalism. It is not pretty. I don't care who's doing it. Nationalism looks a mess. It's me on a Sunday morning in college - mascara-smeared, hair a disgrace, not quite sure if I would find my clothes or my keys. Suddenly meetings just had to begin with the Pledge of Allegiance. The Seventh Inning Stretch became a time to show not our love of baseball, but another opportunity to behave like a bunch of out-of-tune clods singing about an invisible man granting most favored nation status on us and so justifying our American exceptionalism. I think it would suit us better if we're going to be exceptional, then let us be that. We can't be exceptional just because we're The United States. There must be more to us than that.
Which brings me back to vulgarity. Two wars. Lives changed forever. An economy set on self-destruct. A widening gap between those with options and opportunity and those at their mercy. The American Dream shown to be the big lie it is.
Osama Bin Laden's death is but a small justice done. The things unleashed in those moments on that sunny, perfect September morning can't be changed by his death. Even had he been brought in alive so we could torture him - drag out the pain just a fraction for each life lost, even that wouldn't square the balance sheet. He's not a man to mourn. His death is not a reason to cheer. Most of what he wrought, we did to ourselves. He was simply the catalyst for us to show our true nature. We're human, after all. We aren't always pretty, but can we change? Can we be better? Don't we want to be better? The highroad is exhausting, full of obstacles and offers little immediate reward. So what's the point?
Where were you?