Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2001 07:41:35 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Life Goes On

After my walk this pre-dawn morning, I sat out by the fishpond enveloped by blissful darkness. It was the total darkness of the woods where everything disappears. Nevertheless, the darkness mysteriously soothes. Being sightless, sounds seem to multiply and heighten. They enhance the dark. Undistracted mental images sharpen.

It is Rosh Hashonah. I didn't have to make the transition I normally make from my head to my heart. I was already inside myself. I had gone there a week ago in response to the horrible events in Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington. As I sat in synagogue these past two days, I realized that Rosh Hasonah, the Jewish New Year, comes with a great gift: the opportunity to begin again. And in a perverse way, because of the terrorists, we Americans have been given the gift to open a new page and it is up to us to decide what the pen of life will record.

I and my family have just returned from a grueling zig-zag trip up the east coast to Boston in order to attend the wedding of our nephew. We had tickets to fly on Friday, didn't think we would make it, changed them to Saturday, didn't think we would make it, changed them from Jacksonville-Boston to Atlanta-Providence, left Valdosta at midnight, drove almost fours hours to Atlanta, thought we had made it, waited in the empty airport, found our flights were cancelled, didn't think we were going to make it, got new flights, we and bags were thoroughly searched, passed uniformed and armed air marshals, flew, drove from Providence to Boston, made it, arrived three hours before the wedding--fifteen tiring hours with almost not sleep after we left Valdosta. On Monday, we zig-zagged by car and plane and car another fourteen hours back to Valdosta.

I have admit I was feeling a tad uneasy, almost guilty, about celebrating in the midst of death and destruction. But, I strongly felt that life takes precedent over death. The rabbi officiating at the ceremonies understood this. She explained that we who had traveled were there because of our strong sense of family and friendship. She wisely told of the Jewish tradition that when a funeral procession meets a wedding party, the former gives way to the latter. It is more than a symbolic embracement of life. It is a commitment to life, the rabbi reminded us. Life goes on. Life is good.

I saw and felt that persistence in life, that commitment to live, in the wee hours of Atlanta. A man entered the airplane slowly waving a small American flag saying, "F--- the terrorists." He defiantly nodded his head and smiled. There was applause, mine included. Tears came to my eyes. I don't think I was the only one. I, too, felt a patriotic obligation to fly. Maybe the planes that crashed into the Towers and the Pentagon also shattered our complacency. More importantly, they awakened our consciousness out from a taking-for-granted stupor and slammed into our psyche to remind us who we are. That man colorfully said it all. Buildings are structures. They even may be symbols. They are not that indefinable but powerful American spirit. And if it was the American-thrashing and American-hating terrorists' intent to destroy our will to go on living, they will be defeated by people such as this man who refuse to let that spiritual destruction happen.

It is wrong to think that America goes on unchanged. It is also wrong to think that America is utterly changed. It's okay to be nervous and even afraid. The thing is not to let that nervousness and fear control you. Things may not be the same, but they will be okay in another kind of way and in the same way. And so, on that plane, I also felt a firmer resolve to go on being an American.

I cherish my basic freedoms, civil liberties, and the sanctity of the individual. In this struggle, whatever the contrary temptation, we are invited and challenged to protect our rights and freedoms. It is the only right thing to do. It is the only right way to do things. We don't need another set of blotting and smudging Alien and Sedition Acts. We need to write clear and fine words and phrases. To leave those freedoms and liberties we so cherish unaltered, not to forget who we are, to retain dearly what we value, and remember how we should live is an essential part of winning in this "war." No, it is THE essential part. If we don't, as we've lost before we've begun to fight.

And so, I don't think at all of the rhetoric of "crusade" or the "first war of the 21st century" or "dead or alive." I think most of the public statements that the FBI, while in the midst of this crisis, while it is engaged in a massive hunt for the perpetrators of this hienious attack, will with equal vigor pursue hate crimes launched against innocent Arab and Muslim Americans. That is a powerful statement of what we are all about.

Of all the pictures I've seen on TV and in print, the most powerful image burned in my soul during these terrible days is not that of a plane hitting a building or of the collapse of structure mesmerizing as they may be. It is that of three heroic NY firemen raising the flag over the rubble as if it was a reenactment of the marines on Iwo Jima. In those firemen and the police, lead by real values to risk and lose their lives, we saw that as steel and glass and concrete collapsed, the American spirit rose up stronger than it ever has been in a long time. I saw images of death and destruction born from a hateful womb. I also saw with pride images of courage, generosity, and strength emerging out from a compassionate womb. I saw resolve, character, and the resurrection of a spirit that has brought us together. I am not ashamed to admit that I cannot count how many times I was brought to tears. I was reminded that love of country is really love of this country values, liberties, and freedoms. It is the glue that binds all of us diverse people together into one people. "I love America" doesn't mean a thing if we don't care about and care for and love one another.

And to all those extremists on the left and right, I now say we are a good people. We are not a perfect people. We have built a just place to live, a fair place to live, and a decent place to live. We have not built a perfect palce to live. The American spirit won't be conquered. We'll preserve what we have and write to improve on it. We will defiantly rebuild and live. Others places have risen from greater ashes: London, Sarajevo, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Berlin, London, Beirut, San Francisco, Chicago. And so will New York and Washington.

Those terrorists reminded me who I am. They reinforced who I am as an American and more importantly as a human being. I will not--I cannot even if I wanted to--separate my mind and body from my heart. And when I return to class today, this is who and what I will share and discuss with students when they inevitably will ask me today if I had felt a "fear of flying."

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

Return to The Complete Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to the Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier