That awful anniversary is this Saturday.
I think the part that shook us the most was the realization that we were hated so very much. The act itself was so unspeakably cruel. But the dancing in the streets froze our blood, stopped our breath.
We are a good-natured people, for the most part. The whole “live and let live” thing underlies all that we believe. Though we periodically lose sight of it, as we have these nine years since, our true north is an unshakable belief in the best in each other, that our best is always yet to be.
Our spirit of optimism has been under attack for a while. Advertising took over politics in the early 80’s and, as any good ad man will tell you, the easiest thing to sell is fear. We have been fed a constant diet of fear by politicians too lazy or maybe just not bright enough to come up with any original ideas.
Be afraid of the poor, the foreign, gay people, straight people, black people, Hispanic people, country people, city people, immigrants, conservatives, liberals, your neighbors, your government. Be afraid. We’re told over and over, cause that’s how advertising works. “They are the problem. I am the solution. Vote for me.” Dirt can’t hide from new improved Tide. It’s all the same.
The relentless message eroded our best sense of ourselves and our essential goodness. Our growing fear took away our belief that we were loved like spoiled children, adored in spite of our faults. So, when the planes hit the towers and the images of people delighting in our pain filled our televisions and our front pages, we were convinced.
For a moment, when it first happened, the world was filled with a shared sadness for our loss. Love poured in over our borders. But as we slammed our borders shut to protect ourselves, we also began to wall out the love and support of those who did not hate us. Aided by the craven, the greedy and the self-interested, we have been urged to believe that “they” are our enemies and that we must band together to protect our American dream. Even against each other.
I’m sure we have enemies. We use ¾ of everything in the whole world. That’s gotta produce some hard feelings.
But honestly, we are the world’s great experiment. We are a little bit of every country in the world. We are everyone. We are attempting to live everyone’s dreams. Maybe not the crassness or the hyper-consumption, but the ideas of freedom and tolerance and compassion, the notion that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. Everyone, even the people who really do hate us, hope that’s true and in so doing, hope that we succeed. If it’s possible here, then maybe they too can live free.
The only way we can fail is to give up on those ideals. If we make Saturday a celebration of hatred, fear and intolerance, we have lost. Probably not the war, but certainly the battle.
I know how tough it is to believe in yourself when people keep telling you that you’re over, worthless, an abomination. I have lived through the fear that everyone hates me.
I’ve been gay in school in small towns in the south. I’ve been an artist in a world full of accountants. I’ve been over 50 in West Hollywood. I’ve been told by word, deed and law that “they” were my problem.
But my problem is me. If I go out into the world wearing my shit stole, I’m going to get a markedly different reaction than if I’ve got vanilla extract behind my ears. If I want to be loved, I have to be first in line. If I want to stop fearing people, I have to start treating them better.
If we want to stop being afraid of the world, we have to stop being afraid of each other. If we want to be loved, we have to behave like people we can love.
The good news is, this is an area where we already have a lot of experience.
The Prince’s Psalm and other books I’ve written are now available in all formats and platforms here: http://thedinnerpartyshow.com/albums/the-princes-psalm/