A few days after I arrived in New York, I walked past a startlingly beautiful garden. It was only a few yards long, and not carefully manicured but filled with an overflowing bounty of flowers and plants. It filled the narrow strip of space between the sidewalk and a fire station, and on the wall of the building was a plaque dedicating the garden to the memory of the listed firefighters. Then I understood why there was such a beautiful garden wedged in there.
There are circles of grief, circles of how close you are to the center of us. When the US reacted in horror and outrage to September 11th, most of us were in quite peripheral circles. This garden was built by people who had lost friends, colleagues, and probably family.
The TV in the hospital cafeteria is reading names, slowly working its way through the alphabet. They are up to the “W” names. Sometimes relatives are speaking for moment about the people they miss. Others use the old clichés, tired meaningless phrases we assume we ought to hear.
What can I say. What can anyone say. There is nothing to say after a massacre.
Rage is an anesthetic, so it hatred. I think about the outrage in the US in 2001, about the hatred, particularly the vile Islamophobia that took root (and also the vile rumors about Jews that I won’t repeat so as not to give them life). These are such human responses, though often they responses of people in the outer circle, the people least affected. The people most affected are often trying to get through the day, and the next day. The TV is up to the “Y” names now.
I think about the day I realized that the number of civilians killed by the US in Afghanistan had surpassed the number of Americans killed on September 11th. That was over a decade ago, the numbers have only gone up. I don’t mean to weigh one group against another, I just want to say: enough. I am deeply opposed to the idea that the American killings of civilians in the Muslim world justified the September 11th attacks, and I am deeply opposed to the idea that the killing of Americans, in the past or in the future, justifies the continued attacks of drones bombing, killing, civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.
Is there a worse memorial we can build than to continue the killing in their name? Let’s plant more gardens. Let’s make sure the families who lost loved ones continue to receive whatever help and support we can give. Let’s make sure that the traumatized survivors, particularly rescuers, received the support that they need. And in memory, and in honor, of those who were killed, too young, let’s stop the killing.