The tragedy and events of that day remains firmly etched in my mind; watching the towers fall as we ran towards downtown, walking through the smoke and falling ash, loading water into a police car, desperately wanting to help in any way possible, only to realize there was nothing else to be done.
But this week, I was reminded of the other tragic result of that day: the cultivation of unapologetic ignorance in the United States.
I was reminded of it as I watched Representative Joe Wilson, Republican from South Carolina shouted "You lie" at President Obama as he was giving an address on healthcare reform to a joint session of Congress. Joe Wilson was wrong. The facts prove that he's wrong. Yet for political and, no doubt, financial reasons (he has received about half a million dollars from the health care industry), he clings to his extremely disrespectful, harmful and blatantly untrue accusation.
We as a country have been divided, not in two, but three groups. On one side you have liberals and progressives, who, while often at odds on several issues, generally agree in spite of themselves.
But on the other side, you have two distinct groups. Those who are genuinely ignorant, having been misinformed or not informed at all, who refuse to try to learn more and instead blindly cling to their anger, bigotry and cynicism. And then there are those who DO know better, but purposefully and unabashedly foster ignorance and fear in others, in order to achieve their own financial and political gains. I go back and forth on which ones are worse.
This, then, is the second, and far more insidious tragedy of 9/11. Being forced to watch as some portion of our family, friends and fellow citizens get dragged down into a quagmire of lies and deceit. Some are, in fact, good, decent people, who have just been lied to about what the real problems and who the real enemies are.
For myself, I lost a lifelong friend to this second tragedy. It was back in 2003; a fellow I've known since I was 3 years old was supposed to come up to NYC with his girlfriend. I had emailed him to see if that was still happening, if he needed a place to stay, etc...
His response was completely out of left field. I had been doing some light campaigning for Wesley Clark at the time and he had received several of my mass emails on behalf of the General. When my friend wrote back, it wasn't to make plans for his NYC visit, it was to berate me about my liberalism. He accused me of forgetting about the attacks on the twin towers, of somehow siding with the terrorists. He then went on to criticize my decision to pursue an acting career in NYC, telling me to "grow up" and stop being a dreamer.
The irony of these various personal attacks baffled me. For one, while I was in New York on September 11th, 2001, he was in Florida, unemployed, probably asleep, possibly hungover, and here he is accusing me of forgetting a catastrophic event I witnessed first hand? As for the attacks on my life choices, here's a guy who dropped out of college and moved to Florida to just hang out and party, whose life decisions and dreams I ALWAYS supported and encouraged, telling me to grow up. Ridiculous.
And the worst part was, it wasn't him. It wasn't the guy I grew up with, who confided in me about his family troubles. Even after we grew apart with age and distance, we had a bond that was supposed to be like one of family. Yet here he was, brainwashed by conservative talk radio, attacking the guy with whom he had spent countless weekends watching TV, playing tennis, exploring in the woods, growing up together. And for what? Ignorance and lies.
And what I find terribly tragic is that, thanks to the corporate propaganda machine that is Fox News Corp, there is nearly half an entire generation of people in this country that are going to grow up with these selfish, racist, and small-minded ideologies pounded into their brains. They are going to grow up afraid of change and without real empathy for either their community or their fellow man. And just plain ignorant.
That's just incredibly sad.