Get over it, they said. It's over.

They said that about the Oklahoma City bombing, that horrifying morning in the spring of '95, the explosion that was heard around the world, the event that was always billed as "the worst act of terrorism on American soil" — for the next six years, anyway.

And then the planes sailed into the stone and the steel crumpled into a ball and the towers fell out of the sky and twenty times as many people, a thousand times as many lives, were destroyed, and still they want me to get over it.

And I can't. And I can't think of any reason why I should.

This is an isolated incident only in the sense that it hadn't happened before. At least not like that, anyway. But the enemy — no other term fits, no matter how you try to explain it away — the enemy had been telegraphing the blows to come for quite some time. We ignored them. I don't know why. Perhaps we, still a young nation, believed like any adolescent that we were indestructible. Perhaps we didn't want to confront a force that we manifestly did not understand. Or perhaps we simply were preoccupied with Other Things. It doesn't matter now. Fixing the blame is for the historians. Our job is to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Timothy McVeigh was sent to his death from the heights of Terre Haute and Terry Nichols is standing trial in the shadow of the death house at McAlester. There may never be another Oklahoma City bombing. But we can't be sure. We can't shrug it off, mutter "Shit happens," and go about our daily lives; the reminders are always with us. And even if they weren't, if we'd never built the memorial, if the bombers had been killed instantly by their own evil deed, the memories will remain.

Because I heard it. Because everyone within a five-mile radius — at that time of the morning, easily a couple hundred thousand people — everyone heard it, felt it, wondered about it, was shaken by it, finally was scared half blind by it. It was completely and utterly unimaginable, and yet there it was.

Jump ahead six years and odd. This time it's not a couple hundred thousand people forced to witness apocalyptic evil; it's millions. And this time it's not a couple of cranks who may or may not have had overseas connections; it's nineteen agents of death, backed up by God knows how many support troops, striking at three places — and hitting two — at once.

And someone dares to say "Shit happens"? "Get over it"?

What kind of soul suppresses its memories, hardens its stance, sacrifices its humanity, just for a few moments of simulated peace of mind? What kind of person can look upon the destruction and still walk away unaffected?

It may be indeed a temporary aberration, but it's also something else: the beginning of war. Did anyone tell residents of the Hawaiian Islands to "get over it" in the summer of '42? Of course not.

Some people loathe the very word "war," and I don't blame them; pain and suffering and death come wrapped up in the package and there's no way to separate them, no way to make it painless and easy, or easy to ignore. But when you're faced with war, there's only one thing you can do: fight. You take on the enemy and you rout his positions and you remove his leaders, and the one thing you don't do is pretend it isn't happening. You can talk of peace when the war is won.

Yes, I remember Gandhi. I also remember that he never had to take on an enemy as single-minded and obsessive as this.

And so, after two years, we hear the word "closure" being bandied about like some new brand of soda pop, but we know better than to drink from it. And we will cry, and some of us will write, and some of us will shake our heads and wonder why — and wonder why people still tell us to get over it.

Will there ever be balm for our pain, healing for our sorrow? I don't know. But this much, as Michele says, is true:

You can only repair your own heart and soul when they feel torn and worn out, and hope that when you feel renewed and hopeful again, you have enough faith and belief left to help repair someone else's heart — and then to pass that skill on to those who come after you.

Maybe some day I can make these repairs. But not now. Not when I know that it can happen again. And if we fail to resist with all our might, it will.

The Vent

#356
11 September 2003

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