We were talking about my childhood when she asked a question, stunning in its bluntness.
“Have you ever thought about just getting over it?”
She apologized swiftly, backtracking before I could even offer that I wasn’t offended by the question. There’s a fine line between honoring a memory and being trapped by it, a fine line between respect and obsession, and sometimes, you can’t tell which side someone is on. For me, I recognize the nature of my life, the chain of events that brought me to where I am now, and as much as I wonder what else might have occurred, I recognize that this is the only thing that actually did.
When my mom was a kid, her mother took her to see the Beatles at the Mid-South Coliseum. I sometimes joke that it might be the last cool thing she ever did. But then, she was a widowed mother of two when she was only a year older than I am now, so I suppose she had her hands full.
As for me, my hands are empty, my wallet is full, and there are oh so many things to do.
ISIS attacked France on Friday. Today, France bombed ISIS. And I see the chain of events which led to my father’s death, spread through the decade in which I was born, a decade I can barely remember, playing out once more in real time. Cruelty begetting cruelty, with no solution in sight, just as the Doctor summarized in an atypically topical monologue last week.
[I]t’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they’re always going to have to do from the very beginning: Sit down and talk!
When I went out to interview people for my book, I spoke with a woman who lost her husband in the same attack that killed my father. Whereas the bombing had shaped me into a die-hard liberal, a war-as-last-resort type, if not a full-on pacifist, she described herself, in nuanced terms, as the opposite: A one issue voter, with that issue being national security. She thought the only fight worth fighting was one I believed could never actually be won.
I still remember the morning of the Oklahoma City Bombing, two decades ago: Finding out at school, breaking down in tears around my sixth grade classmates. “They did it again,” I cried, to the bewilderment of many. Only, in that case, “they” didn’t do it, “we” did. And in the panic that followed, Congress rushed through a law that, it turned out, didn’t apply to that case at all, but did apply to my own. The cushy lifestyle I live is as much a result of that bombing as it is my father’s death.
I still remember the morning of 9/11: How the night before, sitting in the dorm hallway, an ROTC cadet bemoaned the lack of wars for him to fight. My fellow freshmen were stunned by the day’s events, and wondered aloud how such a thing could happen, having already forgotten Oklahoma. That night, my dorm organized a candlelight vigil at Gasworks Park, and I spoke to the crowd, saying how I’d been there before. Six days later, I turned 18.
My adulthood has seen a scaling up of this sort of violence, the mistakes of the past coming back to bite us, again and again. War begets war. Cruelty begets cruelty. “The only way anyone can live in peace is if they’re prepared to forgive,” the Doctor offered in that same episode referenced above. But instead, we bomb. Instead, we fight. Instead, we talk of an increase in “tolerance for civilian casualties,” while calling the other side murderers.
My dad was killed by a Libyan. A Muslim. A terrorist representing a warmongering regime.
I refuse to get those things conflated, because it’s only the last that deserves ill will.