We have a somber anniversary fast approaching – 9/11. The 20th anniversary milestone of that horrendous event linked with the increasingly chaotic and tragic situation in Afghanistan has led to a great deal of reflection on the national tragedies that I have witnessed, and how our response to them has changed over the years. It has also fueled my near obsession for an understanding about the state of the republic that was ignited after watching the assault on our capital on January 6.
This reflection and the quest for answers has led me to read books about the nations leaders as never before. It has also instilled a hunger to visit more of the homes and libraries of previous presidents.
Since January 6, I have read books about Michelle Obama, John McCain, President Trump, the leadership principles espoused by President Eisenhower, presidents Truman, Garfield, Adams, Lincoln, Hoover and Bush, and senators Barry Goldwater and Joseph McCarthy.
For a brief moment in time two decades ago we were united in our grief, our shock, our outrage and in our love for country. Then came the assault on our nations capital, sacred ground, an attack on institutions of government by Americans.
That event scarred me more than the attack on 9/11, or any event witnessed to date. But what has saddened me most about this heinous event, what ignited an almost all consuming hunger for understanding was the aftermath. Elected representatives and faux journalists joined together to justify the assault and to give those involved legitimacy. But most disturbing of all, unlike on 9/11, the American people did not unite in justified anger and demand answers as well as accountability.
This anniversary, this year of reflection has led to thoughts on national tragedies, and how we as a people responded. I was but a kid at the time. Still, with clarity I remember the assassination of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the shooting of Malcom X and Governor George Wallace, and the palpable sense that the world had shifted. That sense of uncertainty was magnified by the look on the faces of parents, teachers and adults, and the tone of their voices.
As family farms in Alabama and Tennessee figure prominently in childhood, the momentous civil rights marches of the ’60s are also an integral part of childhood memories. Again, I was just a kid but I remember kin referring to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. I remember seeing large gilt framed pictures of General Lee and Stonewall Jackson hung over the mantle or on parlor walls. I remember segregated drinking fountains. And I remember how disturbing it was to hear gentle people speak in anger about civil rights marches, and curse the name of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
I was to young to remember details but not so young that I can’t remember my pa’s quaking voice and a long, all night drive after an encounter with the police in some backwater Mississippi Delta town. This was about 1962 or 1963, and my pa had Michigan plates on the car.
As my childhood also had a connection with Detroit, memories of the riots and the burning of cities in the 1960s were refreshed by the events that unfolded this past year. Once again thugs and people who embraced chaos as a catalyst for change had tainted peaceful protests for the righting of wrongs.
And, of course, I was an adult when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred. In fact I had briefly interacted one of the warped men involved with that heinous event through my work in Kingman, Arizona.
Obviously all of these events have played a role in the shaping of my world view and perception. Likewise with the diverse array of books read over the years. Still, last year I found it disconcerting to see the burning of cities exploited for political gain. I found it depressing that people had used peaceful protests as an excuse to destroy property and assault government buildings. But it was even more disturbing to see Americans storm our capital in anger.
To date I have yet to find understanding. I have yet to find historic precedent for this time of crisis. And I have yet to find solace or a clear picture of what the outcome will be. But there are more books to read, most notes to take, and more sunrise walkabouts with deep meditation.