Among the many questions burning in the fires of September 11th are those that relate not to our enemies or to our collective grief, but to ourselves as individuals, as American cells upon which the survival of body rests. What has happened to us has receded in the face of how we react and respond, how we wrestle and conquer that which has happened. Or how we don't.
What did it take to make normally unshakeable Dan Rather look out at us with eyes of utter bewilderment or the once irrepressible now wholly subdued and uncharacteristically tearful David Letterman talk and talk and talk about sadness on Late Night?
How did it come to be that we stand now in public places, we Americans, famous for our disengaged breezy friendliness and flippancy (and our cultural three-foot comfort zone) and actually look into the faces of people next to us and talk with them - or without talking, understand exactly what they are feeling.
When did grocery boys and bank tellers, doctors and neighbors become simply fellow Americans, co-mourners at a national funeral? And why do we mourn so inconsolably? How did the slain/murdered/martyred strangers thousands of miles from us become so valuable to us as human beings - precious beyond measure because they are gone from us?
And when did a young husband and father, traveling on a routine business trip, turn into a formidable American force - the general of an impromptu army of three - and in one split second, save our nation's capital/capitol from destruction?
I have been obsessing in the past week over Jeremy Glick - not as an individual, but as a standard of American courage, not as an individual hero, but as an emblem of quintessential heroism that seemingly sprang to life in a man whose sole object when getting on an ordinary plane for an ordinary flight was to get home to hold his twelve week old baby and kiss his wife. He wasn't a soldier or a paramedic, a fireman or a police officer. He hadn't been trained to do what he was called upon (by what? By whom?) to do and he had no time in which to prepare to do it.
Neither did anyone else. But everyone who responded heroically to this living nightmare found something inside themselves which propelled them into the national spotlight and/or ended their lives.
What I contemplate is not a biography of this young man- it is rather a biography of courage, the manifestations of which are typified in Jeremy Glick, but have appeared in many guises, wearing many faces. The question I am asking is: At its source - what is courage? Where does it come from - from what part of us, as humans, as Americans, does courage arise? And how do we know we will have it when our turn comes?
The reason that Dan Rather, David Letterman and countless other personalities and citizens are dropping facades and looking at us and each other with raw emotion is not so much that we have been attacked but the need to do something, even if it is only to ask the right questions.
Not everyone can divert an airplane, but everyone can be genuine, human, tribal and brave. Everyone can face demons and wrestle with them - on camera, in drugstores, at ground zero and in the sky.
The one question that everyone is asking is Why did this happen? I wonder if it will take the courage of a Jeremy Glick to face the answer.
~ Harrison Solow
Written sometime in the month after September 11, 2001
Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance