by Angela Leontis
I am twenty-two. I have found people my age to be generally cynical and disenchanted with the "Spirit of America." From college classes to bar stools, I have sat and listened to my peers bashing the Constitution, capitalism, the media, and the corrupt elements of our system. Don't get me wrong — I think skepticism and youth go hand-in-hand. As an environmentalist, I've participated. While traveling in Europe, a good friend of mine and I observed embarrassing behavior from our American peers. Their feud, consisting of loud and drunken arm-flailing bantering, echoed absurdly through the Parisian cobblestone streets.
Since the 11th, we have tuned into national television to watch a pornography of human pain over the losses of loved ones in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and four airplanes. Over $150 million were raised when Hollywood icons gathered together, pleading, "We need your help." Their speeches and love songs and Vietnam-era ballads urged Americans to contribute the only way we knew how — and with bleeding hearts, we reached for our pocketbooks. Look at what we can do when we unite. Look at the blood banks.
The lenses of our lives have suddenly been focused. The illusion is gone. Faith is renewed. Bush is suddenly a popular leader. Flags are everywhere, as is patriotism — on television, in the street, in the windows of SUV's.
Now I see Americans retelling the stories of the crashes, the dust, the death. There is music playing in the background — just like some kind of Hollywood production. Giant flags at sports events and spectators with tears in their eyes. I go to a bar to meet a few friends for a beer. Fliers read, "Remember September 11, 2001." FLAG. Flip to other side. Another flag. Then, "Show your patriotism, and make your country proud. Come drink half off." A friend put it well and simply: "This isn’t patriotism, it's capitalism." Everything is suddenly drama, plastic. Am I alone here, losing my mind?
We could rearrange our lives by simply living the truth, leaving behind our lack of culture, our cluelessness, our blind naïveté. Not an electronic chain letter's truth or America's censored truth or the media-speak’s truth. Just by being real and seeing real, by seeing more than a Hollywood interpretation of what it is to be a human being as well as an American living in the present moment. By seeing life.
Last week I saw Beneath the Veil, a CNN documentary by a British reporter whose father was Afghani. She risked her life to seek out the paradise he once described, which she feared was now lost amidst the political and social wreckage the Afghanistan has been facing since the outbreak of its Civil War.
What I saw on this program was madness. Five children, asked how many of their parents were killed by the Taliban. Seven out of ten. A soccer stadium built by the international community to raise the spirits of the people, converted into a place of public execution. Women applying makeup in secret beauty parlors, children attending underground schools — acts punishable by death.
One image that will never leave me: a man outside his house, sitting on a stump of some kind, staring into oblivion. Sad is no word for the way his eyes looked. His three beautiful young girls, adorned in brightly colored clothing, wilting side by side on a dirt floor against a wall. He said they hadn't stopped crying since they watched the Taliban kill their mother after she pleaded for their lives. The men that murdered them stayed there for three days. When asked what the men did to them, their tears only flowed more intensely.
Those children are already dead. There are old men and young boys waiting for the Taliban behind machine guns. They are already dead. There are women who are raped in front of their children twelve times a day. They are already dead. This is what should be aired on national television, in schools, at churches. Denial of life.
Let's face it. Countries like Afghanistan simply do not exist to the international community. Thus, the question becomes, how much is a nonexistent life worth? I think it may be impossible for Americans to fully understand the concept of valueless life. As an entire nation, we have been fortunate since day one. We have not been denied life. Forget liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Life. We operate under the illusion that atrocities like those which have occurred in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Burma, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Tibet, and Afghanistan are unthinkable and thus, even impossible.
To those who did experience the pain of loss on September 11th, take comfort in the fact that each and every American who died that day was never denied life. Up until that morning, they had a luxury, a comfort, that although, perhaps unrealized, protected them from some evils that other may never really know. They had life.
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