My calendar labels the 11th "Patriots Day," which seems entirely to miss the point. It's true that in the days after 9/11, even people like me flew the American flag. But if 9/11's lesson is fundamentally about patriotism, then we have fundamentally misunderstood why we were attacked and what the attacks taught us about our place in the world.
Moreover, in the two years since 9/11, the content of ‘patriotism' has become so corrupted by the Bush administration's deceitful war on Iraq, the Ashcroft DOJ's outrageous intrusions on civil liberties, and perhaps above all the seemingly uncheckable redistribution of wealth to America's richest and most powerful citizens, that I now recoil from the word. Even if I could do some sort of midrashic interpretation on the word "patriotism," redefine it, Humpty-Dumpty like, to mean ‘pride' or ‘unity,' its public meaning, the meaning that counts, is ethnocentrism, hyper-capitalism and unilateralism.
Come to think of it, if that's what patriotism means, maybe 9/11 really was Patriots Day. Or at least, Consequences-of-Patriots Day.
There is a line of thinking that my contestation of the content of Americanism is itself a patriotic act. Fine. But contestation is incompatible with grief. So I want to be let alone, to grieve privately, if at all. In public, the only way to reclaim 9/11 is to fight for it, and I don't want to fight. It may be that I just don't want to deal with it at all, and am using this political cover to mask what is really just an unwillingness to be disturbed. But the reality is that, unlike two years ago, when I wrote my earlier article, American flags once again make me feel vaguely nauseated.
It's eight months on, and my grandmother is still alive. This is the irreducible fact of it. We are surprised, and a little despairing. Her suffering was to be ameliorated by its brevity: soon, it would be over, and we could begin the project of assessing her life in its totality (as I tried to do in Quality of Life) rather than in the context of the infantilized woman enduring, still, in "assisted living."
Like many in her situation, she often gets better. When I visited her this month, her ability to maintain a conversation had improved, her health had improved, and overall she seemed happier. Seemed. What I noticed in the last day of being with my grandmother is how fully she reflects the people around her. Her nurse, a kind-hearted but dim-witted woman who sings songs and takes care of my grandmother's medical needs, is cheerful, superficial, and light. So, too, is my grandmother. Though wisps of her despair seem to surface like flickers of light reflected in a lake, she becomes almost submerged in the absurd cheer of her nurse. I envy the nurse this ability to cheer her up. Sometimes, when I see my grandmother, I feel that I am a relief to her – finally, someone who isn't lying or distracting or just endlessly talking. But sometimes I feel like I'm just a downer. At this point, does she really need honesty?
Carrying Light into Dark Times
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
With a Bible and a Gun:
The Prohetic Justice of Johnny Cash
Samuel Hayim Brody
Season of Revision
Primal Scream Judaism
More than This
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From previous issues:
The Mall Balloon-Man Moment of the Spirit
Quality of Life