As I drove up to the 9/11 memorial this morning, I saw veterans outside greeting each other. I had to flee. I had to keep going. I couldn’t be in that space. I couldn’t be with men and women who had signed up to sacrifice it all – when I hadn’t. It felt… disrespectful. I felt as if I would be violating a sacred space.
All of my conflicted thoughts about 9/11 came to the surface at once. I found myself parked down the road, with tears in my eyes.
A vet asked me recently, why I didn’t serve. I told him that, being 18 on 9/11, I didn’t want to fight an insurgency…
He didn’t know what an insurgency was.
I’ve mentioned before in this blog how I had studied foreign affairs for years, and that I knew jihad was coming to the US – I also knew that our military and our society hadn’t learned the lessons from Vietnam. That we hadn’t come up with effective strategies for dealing with an enemy who could blend into the populace.
The mess that followed justified my decision. The expanded war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq. ISIS… Dying via an IED on some street in Iraq would have been far from an acceptable death for me.
I also see 9/11 as a catalyst, a catalyst that exposed the fissures in American society. Besides the death and misery of millions in the Middle East; 9/11 brought us Obama, and 9/11 brought us Trump. The deep divide in our culture, the big oscillations between extremes – I see as responses to 9/11.
What there is for me is to mourn all of it. Not just the events of 9/11, but the seventeen years that have followed. The swift death of the America of my childhood (the 90’s)…
Yet, even though I feel as though I made the right choices for me, I have guilt. Guilt for not taking direct action in the face of a trying time. Guilt for seeing the options in front of me, saying “not the military,” and then not finding another way to take action. Guilt that I only feel on days like today.
So instead? I’ll do what I’m paid to do. I’ll go out into Santa Cruz county to look for homeless veterans. Just for the game of it, I’ll look for someone specific. I’ll see if I can find a young guy who was on the streets of Fallujah. Maybe in the back country of Afghanistan. I’ll go put the light at the end of somebody’s tunnel.
That’s how I can serve my country today. That’s what’s in front of me.
And the tears in my eyes as I finish this post are tears for 9/11, and everything after.
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