At my writers' workshop, Peggy began her reading, "They have not died in vain," and went on to say how, after the Sept. 11 disaster, flags were sold out in the stores and are being displayed all over town. I felt myself growing angry, and when she repeated, "They have not died in vain" at the end of her essay, the fury rose in my chest.
We have a rule: no cliches and I can't think of a worse one.
Five minutes later, when it was my turn to critique her work, I exploded. "I'm furious! Did these innocent people die so we could sell flags?" "Oh, I didn't mean that," she explained. "I just meant that it brought us closer together."
Closer? When "patriotic Americans" burn down a restaurant because it serves Arab food? When a car belonging to an Iranian family is smashed to pieces? When people mistaken for Muslims are killed, and others are afraid to go to their mosques to pray? When turbans and scarves, mandated by their religions, make people a target for hate?
Later I hugged Peggy, apologizing for my outburst but not for my sentiments. But I couldn't resist adding, "And these other 'loyal Americans' waving the flag with one hand, phone in the other calling their brokers to sell, sell, sell! This is the faith they have in the America they are proud to be part of? Hypocrites all!
"And what about phonies like Jerry Falwell, blaming gays, feminists, abortionists, et al, for bringing down God's wrath on innocent people? Sure, he apologized, but you don't think he's really changed his mind, do you? He just saw a threat to the contributions made to his organization and backpedaled."
Poor Peggy; in my anger I didn't give her a chance to defend herself as I went on. "Your son is draft age; if he goes into the Army and gets killed over this disaster, will you still mouth, 'He did not die in vain?' I don't think so."
I couldn't resist using one of the worst of cliches: "Our 'patriotic Americans' are crawling out of the woodwork and damaging all of our freedoms. In the name of 'security,' private planes are not permitted to fly; cars cannot enter the airport grounds; Congress is considering loosening the laws governing wiretaps and other invasions of our privacy."
The force of my fury surprised me. Along with the rest of the world, I was mourning the loss of so many lives. But I had not been aware of this rage that had been building up inside me. Much of it is directed toward the terrorists, but I am angry too with a government that allowed this attack to occur and is now threatening to start World War III.
I can see nothing good coming from this catastrophe. I am 82, and my remaining years look very dark indeed. I fear for the youth of this country--and the world.
Jean Desmond lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times