Monday, May 2, 2011

For this could be the biggest sky

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?


  1. Feeling similarly... :( Trying to change but swimming upstream. Love this post...

  2. Well said. I don't think it's time rejoice. It's time to see what we lack and how much we take for granted our safety and freedom. I think this is just he beginning of more violence and death.

  3. Excellent. Simply excellent. Since you went more personal than political, I don't get over here as much as I should. I've always loved your writing. Any way...

    I just can't get all ra-ra over this either. He was an evil man, by his own admission to his own deeds, and it's always good when a stop is put to evil, still:

    10 years?

    How many $$Trillions$$ ?

    How many deaths? Civilian? Innocent?

    A second term of Dubya? The "war president?"

    a SECOND unnecessary war?

    The immeasurable losses: In international prestige? In personal freedoms? The war crimes, and the winking dismissal of those afterward.

    I could go on and on, but this is your blog and I should do my own post anyway. Still

    One man was worth all this? Really?

  4. You're brilliance at time dazzles me. Thanks for this post.

  5. Ah, Lisa. So perfectly said; you captured everything I'm feeling. So now what? What does this change? Very little in the scheme of things. There's been so much damage in so many ways and bin Laden was just a catalyst for our own destructive impulses.

  6. Why should we celebrate the fact that we made a new martyr??? Nothing good will come of this. If we had captured him alive, maybe that would have lessened the blowback.

    Saying Fuck and talking dirty doesn't make you vulgar, celebrating death would!!

    And what's with the people who have to put up flags after every disaster??? Putting up a flag after a tornado has wiped half the state off the map strikes me as just plain weird!!!

  7. This was beautifully thought out and written. I am in awe.

  8. Please cut and paste what Chris in Seattle said here.

  9. Isn't the reason to write because we are so vulgar? As much as an Amish romance may warm some person's cockles, the rest of us need to know we aren't alone, that we are in fact vulgar whether it's outloud as it is here or as quiet as all those bones sitting in many a closet.

    I saw the headline run across Bloomberg. I had a wealthy client call me as he could see the towers from his office and he yelled at me to get out of Chicago, my office at the time a stones throw from the Sears tower. My boss and I sat, silent. We sent everyone else home. Then he sent me, but not before we watched the second plane hit, on live TV.

    Whether or not you admit to the reality of life does not make the truth any less vulgar. It just is.

  10. When someone told me last night my response was that it wouldn't change a thing - I was wrong. That people are celebrating is something I didn't anticipate and it makes me sick.

  11. Glad I'm not the only one feeling like this.

  12. This is a simpöy magnificent post, Lisa.

  13. Wow Lisa. All I can say is wow. Please, please, please send this out...somewhere... as an op ed piece. You must.

  14. We often say, “Life is a movie”. But it isn’t. There’s no script and there’s very few really good actors. Life is mostly chaos while we attempt making sense of it and controlling it a bit.

    Some bury themselves in rituals and symbols, often accepting and not questioning the words of religions or militaries or parents or radio voices.

    A few people will ask, “What is this thing called Life?” while also never expecting a clear and precise answer.

    I cannot cheer the death of a bad person. Cheering and partying about death seems medieval or even primeval, and not something found along the path to enlightenment.

    Bin Laden wasn’t a “people’s revolutionary” wanting to improve everyone’s lot in life. No, he was a wealthy man using radical religion as if it were a laser guided missile. He tapped into ancient fears, ancient grudges, ancient blood feuds then he sat back enjoying the mayhem.

    Cheering his death is like feeling good about road rage. OK, so you flipped off someone, screamed a stream of obscenities and got ahead of the other car. Tell me, what did you gain? So you got home two minutes early but what’s that worth?

    Looking down that metaphorical road, you’ve had your moment of self-congratulations, you’ve cheered your victory ... but what about a thousand other rage-filled Bin Laden wannabes who are now really pissed at your vengeance and your cheering?

    Zealots plot revenge, they like to wave their guns, especially when you’re boastful and nationalistic. They have nothing but their hate and they have their crazies wearing shoe bombs, vest bombs and underpants bombs. They also have a world filled with poverty and have-nots as a place to fester their ugliness.

    No, I will not cheer over the demise of Bin Laden. Good riddance, but that’s not a reason to party.

  15. On the other hand, nothing is vulgar, your are not vulgar, no one is vulgar !

    There are expressions that represent feelings. No one is really meaning to fuck anybody ! ?

    Believe me. Or, if you already do...

  16. Terrific post, Lisa. Well said.

  17. Excellent, excellent post. Should be printed in every paper in this country.

    By the way, war is vulgar. Using a four letter word is simply extracting the most from language.

  18. Thank you Lisa - feeling much the same.

  19. I appreciate this essay very much.

    I am not celebrating this. My mother raised me better than that!

    bin Laden was a man who used money he inherited from his father's construction empire, building for rich oil sheiks, to perpetuate his own ego driven version of Islam. This killed more Muslims than Americans.

    If you feel regret for this death, also kindly direct your heart to Muslims who have been murdered by bin Laden's evil too.

    Think of the woman who in the final moments of her life was used to shield his cowardly protectors and died because of it. They did not deserve death.

    Our fellow citizens did not deserve death whether they were in the towers, the Pentagon or on a plane. Our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers in the military did not deserve to die fighting this evil.

    This man did.

  20. I've been enjoying your blog for a long time. Glad I finally have something to contribute.

    The more I think about last night's televised celebrations, the more I wonder how much of the emotion was genuine, and how much was being, um, encouraged. MSNBC's commentators, for example, were practically begging their viewers to start demonstrations in their own towns.

    So Osama bin Laden has been executed. Yay. One cheer, because that's all I can muster.

  21. Well said....very well said Lisa. Fuck Osama, fuck "J" as well, but more importantly, fuck violence and war!

  22. You are not vulgar.

    They told us 75% of the oil in the Gulf evaporated too.

  23. Wonderful post, and I'm so with you.

    Regarding the vulgarity comment that stirred you up...they (the mythical "they") always say to talk about what you don't want to talk about--write about that thing that GETS you.

    You did, and look how beautiful this thing you made is.

  24. We all shit and pis and fuck and die and's a messy life and death. We spend a lot of time pretending we don't do all of that. Vulgar for me is people that don't get honest about it; people that don't get down to the truth are vulgar liars.

    Bless you, for you speak the truth. And you make me laugh.

  25. Same here. I was at my brother's and my nephew came running up to tell us. I said to him "does it really matter?" As long as there's money to be made with these military adventures, they will continue. I was disgusted when I saw photos of people celebrating at the White House and NYC. Really. When other people do that shit (i.e., brown people), folks here condemn them for being warlike animals. And the inevitable retaliation will have to happen, which, of course, means more cops stopping people in the city just because. As if that will stop it. But I bet some company is making a fortune off of whatever the new detection device du jour is.

  26. you are not vulgar, war is vulgar, taking away one's way of living is vulgar, killing innocent women and children is vulgar, kicking people out of their homes is vulgar, closing schools and mental health facilities is vulgar, this list is just endless and only serves to depress me much is vulgar today but not you, my dear. xox

  27. I keep thinking about the children. The little girl I knew whose father, at four months old, was taken from her. She is now 10 and has never known his soft embrace. There are so many like her, not all American. They are the real losers.

    I can't seem to shake my sadness.

  28. I wonder what channels were on his satellite TV. I bet he got NHL Center Ice.

  29. I so agree. Well said, Lisa.
    PS I like your vulgarity :)

  30. I was eating breakfast in the campus dining hall, where the TVs showed the WTC with smoke billowing out. Either the second plane was announced or the Pentagon hit was announced; I can't remember, but I don't think it was entirely clear yet whether it was a terrorist attack or an accident. I made a really stupid joke to a friend a few tables away, something like, "Wow, they're really kicking our ass."

    I couldn't help that I didn't understand at first what was going on, but I'm still ashamed by that joke. That was vulgar.

    This article sums up my feelings of bin Laden's death.

  31. I was personally sad to see the celebration in the public streets over Osama's death. While I can understand relief and justice, it seemed very hypocritical to me. We condemned the extremists celebrating when 9/11 happened. It shouldn't happen in reverse.

  32. This whole Bin Laden thing makes me think of this quote:

    "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." -Martin Luther King, Jr

  33. I was sitting on the couch giving my daughter a bottle while watching the morning news. My father was visiting. We couldn't believe it.

    As far as celebrating a death...I wasn't shedding tears. I've heard firsthand horror stories that don't make the press and can't be shared in this kind of forum. I am glad the man is dead.

  34. He may be dead, but will we ever be rid of The Patriot Act, Homeland Security, the Bush/Cheney years...

    I remember being on my way out the door for work at the veterinary clinic. I could not believe the scene on the Today show that bright September morning. It didn't matter that I was late that day, so was everyone else that worked in that office.

    The point is we need to be better.

  35. Also, what Delana said.

    Send it out there!

  36. and while we are over here bumping chests and dancing in the streets and mourning our three thousand (not to belittle any loss but for some reason our 3000 seems to trump the losses the whole world over and I'm really quite certain I don't understand that) there is going to be a blood price paid for this. The question is, will any of us notice when it's paid? I read one, just one single article yesterday and that was that.

  37. Some quotes:

    "Yes, bin Laden the man is dead. But he achieved all he set out to achieve, and
    a hell of a lot more. He forever changed who we are as a country, and for
    the worse. Mostly because we let him. That isn’t something a special
    ops team can fix." – Radley Balko

    'Today Is Not a Day of Celebration for Me'
    "... it breaks my heart to witness young Americans cheer any death – even the
    death of a horrible, evil, murderous person – like it is some raucous tailgate
    party on a college campus ... Can it ever be a true victory when so many
    don't even seem to comprehend the magnitude of what has been lost
    along the way?" – Kristen Breitweiser, 9/11 widow and activist

    I have been on somewhat a news sabbatical.
    The saturation blitz of this story & the chanting on the streets?

    The only silver lining I can see is if they actually pulled out of the wars.

    this country has been in some war or another for a decade now- so much so, it seems commonplace. Some kids have never known a US of America NOT at war.

    We are bankrupt on many levels.
    Declare it a "victory", mission accomplished & be done.

    Enough with the revenge.

  38. Vulgar, REALLY?
    Send that sonofabitch my way and I will show him what vulgar is, honey.

  39. I'm reading this as GMA does a piece profiling the Navy Seal who "put two taps in the head and chest of Osama bin Laden." Irony much?

  40. This was amazing, Lisa. I am glad he's gone, but partying about it is indeed vulgar, in a MUCH less classy way that you are... you are NOT vulgar--I love your honesty and openness and OUT THERE bravery. Sure, it is too much for some--truth is ugly sometimes and some people can't handle it.

    And I completely agree that most of what is affecting our lives is our own damn fault. Yes, we let ourselves be intimidated into giving free rein to the cleptomaniac in the trinket store... leaving nothing for the rest of us...

  41. Yes, I remember talking to you and you telling me that a plane had hit the Twin Towers. I too thought it was a private plane. I miss our talks.

  42. Found you through Betsy. I don't know how often I'll be able to visit, but I do know that this line:

    >>Americans, as a rule, don't ululate.<<

    makes me want to come back. Sweetheart, vulgar is such an easy word to sling, but who the hell knows what it really means? If it were the Queen of England who said so, I might give it some credence, but she would never. So don't give the truly vulgar more attention than they deserve

  43. Thank you, tulasi-priya, and welcome. Here's the post that caused the vulgar comment.

  44. Also, thank you all for these wonderful comments. I'm so late to say thank you. Shame on me.


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