Afternoon Baseball

Common-sense ruminations on baseball and culture.

We're living history, which shouldn't be as powerful sounding as it is to many, since we're always living, making, becoming history. I suppose 9/11 and its aftermath is History, the kind that people will care about, want to know about, and look to for guidance.

For me, 9/11 was not a complete shock. I'd read for years of the "big one" that was awaiting the United States, the danger of airplanes, and how we would have to deal with a deadly attack in some form. I also sensed within a couple days that the consequences of such an attack would include an attack of Iraq, an attempt at reordering the Middle East, attempts to quell at home, if not civil rights, then the "excess" of them (and considering Ashcroft was in power then, it hasn't been as bad as I suspected). All of this would probably occur, I figured, no matter what the consequences or circumstances precisely because, for better or worse, the Bush administration has never followed the Clinton administration in its worship of public-opinion polls.

Having fairly good foresight on all this, though, still doesn't answer the metaphysical questions, in my mind, of what 9/11 has done and how we've dealt with life since it. It also doesn't remove the jaw-dropping feeling that accompanies the videos and pictures of the attack, as familiar as they are.

So that leads to the question that should be on all our minds: Five years later, where are we? The short and painfully obvious: In wars, in a dangerous world that laughs at those who dared ask if history was dead after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But we can see it, if not around us, then on television and the Internet and at the airport. A muted version of 9/11 still hovers overhead with physical manifestations.

But the question I ask is one of psyche, the hidden effects of the shadow cast by that dreadful day. It depends on where you live. In much of the United States (and the world), the shock dissipated almost instantly. There's no context, no scale to compare to -- just a really bad day, so get over it -- and so it seems silly to dwell on it as the White House and New Yorkers have (in different ways, I suppose). And there's something to that. Much like a natural disaster or something bad happening somewhere else, the shock fades away and life goes on. It's both a distinct weakness of humanity and a reason why most of us can survive. Leave it to the few men of words, or arts, to ache and bleed every moment of despair, we say. The rest of us have things to get done.
But vigilance is the key, so many say. They are right, and there are some who wish the whole thing would just go away instead. The Trojan horse in staying "be vigilant," though, is that there's many ways to be vigilant -- not just being or not being -- and the choices there are even more vital. Being vigilant or not is not the choice. It is the ways, the methods, the paths we take toward vigilance.

Then there's the question of proportionality. Yes, natural disasters are almost easier to take with their unfathomable death tolls (from Katrina's 1,300 to Southeast Asia's 200,000+ after the tsunami) because there's no human involvement. But still, 2,700? In a city that has 7 million to 8 million people, the deaths in one day of 1 percent would need to be 70,000 to 80,000. We're talking a miniscule fraction. Of course, to see such death overwhelms the senses and the heart well before 2,700, but those who aren't there can't see (and again, can't be expected to completely empathize).
The U.S. is unaccustomed to devastating losses, which is good, despite the occasional criticism that we don't understand because we haven't lost millions, or more. Countries that attempt wear massive losses as a badge pervert the purpose of trying to prevent such things from happening again. That being said, we do lack a proportionality -- we always think American deaths are worse and worth more than other deaths. Cynically and cruelly, that's often true -- at least with regards to the worldwide ripple effect. But there's also an inflation of self-righteousness and reaction to death, and we are always spiraling outward in that category.

With proportionality comes the responses: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Gitmo, civil liberties, political discourse, fear. Each has arguments for and against the current action, some better than others, but are joined by one thing: all those ideas are held hostage by the whims of how events play out. The control we all think we have (even the terrorists and those like them) is so minute as to be chalked up to luck. We dangle in the middle, waiting to cross or retreat -- or fall forever.

What we are is a nation in flux. We fear, but don't think things can happen to us. We worry about offending, but carry our defiance as Americans-on-the-world-stage attitude with us. We racially profile, parade our lurid, drunken and drugged details online but don't want to be profiled, prodded, or be contained in a chip, card, or file. We are quick to judge loyalty and honor on complete agreement with our point of view, but can't understand why we're judged without care for dialogue and freedom to disagree. Our enemies are murky, and sometimes our friends are little better, yet circumstances dictate we work with them to battle the worse, more mysterious enemy. Security is a part of our lives, can't cover everything but will be liable for any errors. The absence of attacks is reassuring and petrifying; it says our intelligence and security measures are working, or does it say they are crippling democracy?

I don't have the answers. I do know this: No one anymore kids themselves about America and love lost with the world. There are peoples who like us, but they likely have leaders who don't; the reverse holds. Our actions of benevolence (in disaster relief, for instance) will bring some gratitude but is rarely long-lasting (the Central European nations and South Korea are largely an exception), and any mistake leaves a lasting imprint. Our nation must do what is tremendously difficult for individuals to accomplish without crippling pressure: Do right by others in need even when no real reward is awaiting, stay above the fray of petty criticisms without becoming arrogant in determination, and balance all the excesses that come with wading into others' affairs.

There's no utopia. The heroes will not always be that way (to use television just once, the genius of the itself-flawed "Rescue Me," for instance, is that the so-called heroes are tragic characters) and even the wrongheaded will sometimes break through the clouds and find a deeper understanding. For the individual to feel overwhelmed is understandable.
The solution is to not demand a quick or permanent one, but to find what anchors you, how it fits into a mission of improving your life and the lives of others, and pursuing it. It sounds metaphysical, vague, and reeking of platitude, but that's as much of a blueprint that exists.
9/11, for whatever political lessons we take from it, will stay in our minds for decades, much as the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and the JFK assassination have. The thing is common with all these events? In the midst of all, there was a recognition that things should be better. How to get there was the mystery, but that journey was made and often completed.

It's been said many times, in different ways, that out of tragedy comes great good. It almost becomes so that one needs tragedy for good. That's not the case (as in rooting for tragic circumstances) -- we just seem to make it that way. Again, the good and bad of a mind that can forget shock and hurt. But regardless, the opportunity is here, has been, to make something good with our lives and that of others. It was there before 9/11; it's just easier to see now. It will always be there, and that's what history will note of this History -- how we pursued the journey open to us.

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