Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shut Up And Drive

Caption: Screenshot from the music video for "Life Is A Highway".

Image credit: Screenshot from this YouTube video by Cujo359

It's the ninth anniversary of that terrible day, and like everyone else, my thoughts return to it. It always seems like we have to write about all the issues that have resulted from 9/11, or about our memories of it. There are plenty of causes for concern, like losing our rights, invading the wrong country, increased intolerance for people who are different, or the charlatan in Florida and the imbeciles who follow him.

Screw all that.

Caption: A screenshot taken from an Al Jazeera video about Put Him In Bucca, an Iraqi reality television show about bombs and checkpoints.

Image credit: Screenshots from this Al Jazeera video by Cujo359

Finding this story about Iraqis determined to laugh about their terrible situation was nothing short of inspiring. Checkpoints and all the potential for danger they bring are a part of daily life in Iraq, and bombs are an all too frequent part of life there, too. Yet the people who produced that television show had the courage to try to make light of it, and there were plenty of people like that moronic psychologist who criticized them for it. Of all people, you'd think a psychologist would understand that laughter is a way to relieve tension and dispel fear. In a country that has far too much of both, that's essential.

One of the few things I remember a rock artist talking about to this day was a radio interview with Canadian rocker Tom Cochrane back in the early 1990s. I can't find a transcript of it on the Internet, which is unsurprising given how long ago it was. He was discussing his song "Life Is A Highway". He said he got the inspiration for the song while working for the relief organization World Vision in West Africa. Seeing children in some of the camps that were formed there to house people during one of the seemingly incessant civil wars and famines that occur on that continent showed him how resilient people could be. He said he was amazed that in the midst of all that suffering, there were children smiling and laughing. At least, that's how I remember it now.

The first verse of "Life Is A Highway" goes like this:

Life's like a road that you travel on,
When there's one day here and the next day gone.
Sometimes you bend sometimes you stand.
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind.
There's a world outside every darkened Door,
Where blues won't haunt you anymore,
Where the brave are free and lovers soar.
Come ride with me to the distant shore.

Tom Cochrane: Life Is A Highway Lyrics

The secret to life, Cochrane seems to be saying, is to just get on with it. In contrast to what those people in West Africa were going through, or the people in Iraq, our troubles seem mostly theoretical. Yes, we have our problems. I write about them all the time. If you don't think I take those things seriously, you just got here. But being able to laugh or sing about what hurts and frightens us is a way to avoid obsessing about it. When you obsess about things like this, it can turn you into the sort of people who burn books, or try to stamp out every hint of Islam within a thousand miles of Ground Zero. In short, it might prevent you from becoming the people I find scary.

Or, perhaps worse, you'll just stop living.

I wrote two years ago that we needed to get past the events of this day and carry on:

Last September I was trying to write an essay like this and just couldn't stand it. It's too painful to contemplate what a fear-plagued, panic-stricken country we've become. As Kung Fu Monkey claims to be, I'm not very brave, and I'm certainly not fearless. Yet I see through this without difficulty. Why can't the rest of the country?

There's Courage Under Fire, Then There's Us ...

It's even more true now.

For those who lost someone that day, or were directly involved in the events, this day will always bring back painful memories. I grew up within an hour's drive of New York City. I had reason to fear for both family and friends that day. Thankfully, my fears turned out to be unfounded. For those whose fears were realized, I am truly sorry, and hope that someday that pain will go away, at least a little. The rest of us, though, need to get up and move on. Don't tell me to "never forget". Do something to make sure it doesn't happen again. Because, trust me on this, no one who experienced it will ever forget. For my part, I refuse to dwell.

Life's a highway. So just shut up and drive.

Let me end this article with the most relevant video ever for a day like this - Steve Martin playing a banjo for a bunch of puppets:

And thanks to Suzanne for digging up that little treasure.

Afterword: Consider this notice that I will never write about the events of September 11, 2001 on this day again.

UPDATE: A couple of afterthoughts that occurred to me via comments over at the Seminal version of this article:

- One difference between we Baby Boomers and our offspring is that we had Vietnam and the Cold War to provide some perspective on what an existential threat looks like. Folks in their thirties and younger really don’t. It’s like how our generation didn’t listen well enough when our parents were telling us about how much the Great Depression sucked, and why we should avoid another.

All we can do, I suppose, is write how we feel and hope they’re more inclined to listen than we were.

- When I see the first comedy show about terrorism in America, the TSA, perpetual surveillance, and all the other stuff that’s followed 9/11, I know we’ll finally be on our way to getting over it. It will be a bit like Hogan's Heroes was for the WWII generation. You can look at it as trivializing the experience of being a POW, or you can notice that Schultz and Klink were, in some ways, more trapped in their roles than the Allied prisoners were. Or, you can just look at it as being a goofy TV show.
So it will be with the first comedy about 9/11.

The day that show premieres seems further in the future than ever.


Anonymous said...

I think ignoring the problem is asking for more trouble, see,

Cujo359 said...

Nowhere here do I advocate ignoring the problem. Ignoring a problem and refusing to obsess about it are two markedly different attitudes.

We've collectively blown this event up to be far more than it actually was, which is something I wouldn't have thought possible. It's not a call to arms. It's not a reason to discriminate against or otherwise heap disrespect on people who had nothing to do with the event. It's a sad, awful day. We've had them before, and I suspect we'll have them again.