In late September, 2001, every morning that I got into the little black car to go to the library, I'd punch in U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind as I pulled out of the driveway. The first chords come in softly, but insistently. Bono sings quietly at first. Already the day isn't going well. But then, the big drums bring the chorus in, and the volume cranks up: "It's a beautiful day!" he sings. What? You've just been talking about being stuck in traffic, being out of luck, a friendship that doesn't seem to be working out... What the hell do you mean, it's a beautiful day?
It's an act of will. The weeks after 9/11 were hard. Regardless of one's degree of direct involvement, the fact of it hovered over everything. The breathlessly dramatic and endless commentariat didn't help matters any. "Everything has changed." "We've lost our innocence." "America will never be the same again!" Puh-leeze, Lynn and I would say to each other in the evening; did most people in the US really believe that we were never in danger, that we were fated to live some charmed existence forever? Maybe. But it's a dangerous world.
It's a beautiful world. It was tough to remember as that fall wound on, and the hawks came out. Vengeance became the order of the day. It was clear that my president would exact retribution. Blindly, of course, since he couldn't comprehend the causes. The only questions were who and when and where. I despaired. We were plunging into an eye-for-an-eye world. Thousands of innocents had died in New York and DC. My president would make sure that thousands more died. He would do it believing that he was protecting America. And he is still my president, and he kills in my name.
Sentimental me, I believe in the redemptive power of rock and roll. All great art has that power. To remind us, to call to us, to push us to dig into ourselves and reach out to each other. Rothko's paintings quiet the wailing of words in my head and open my heart to the illimitable. A Philip Levine poem turns a tired waitress into a radiant angel. I read Dr. Seuss stories to Josephine and am reminded that my own childhood still blossoms inside me.
It's easy to forget. Our capacity for pain and destruction, our ability to carelessly wound each other, and even to take delight in the damage that we do can seem limitless. Perhaps it is. The darkness can overwhelm us. There is so much sadness and suffering in the world. We carry it on our backs and it bows us to the ground and threatens to break us.
So we need reminding. Our capacity for kindness and wonder is as great. Our tenderness and generosity are limitless as well. Everywhere, everyday, human beings bring more beauty into the world. Salvation is in our grasp. I do not believe it comes from anywhere outside ourselves. It is all in one human heart reaching out to another.
In those September days, I was grateful to the boys from Dublin for helping me remember. It's a beautiful day.