image There are certain images, whether seen in person or on TV, whether live or after the fact on the news, that burn themselves into our consciousness making it uneccessary to ever look at a photograph of the event again.  It’s as if our consiousness knows that that these events should never be forgotten but that left to our own devices, we’d never look at the images again so it puts them in a special place that comes to mind whenever the event is mentioned.  In seventy years, I’ve collected a small album of these images.   All I have to do is close my eyes and I can see the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima and the emaciated souls standing along the fences in the concentration camps.   I can see Jackie Kennedy scrambling across the back of the limo to come to the aid of her husband.  I can see the motel where Martin Luther King was assasinated and I can see the Challenger exploding like an oversized firework, the spectators’ expressions hovering between disbelief and horror.  Yes, and I can see the World Trade Center towers coming down.  For me, though, the quintessential image of September 11, 2001 was the sight of Palestinians dancing for joy in the street at the news.  That image changed me.

I suppose I’ve always known that the world was a dangerous place.  But I thought that most of us were essentially good, that the horrors burned into my brain were the products of a relative few people, be they simply crazed or simply evil enough to bring death and destruction to our newspapers and TV screens.   But in that short video of ordinary people dancing to celebrate the death of innocents, I saw that this dark side runs through much of mankind … perhaps all … and that makes the world a much more dangerous place.  My first reaction to those images was to think, We should bomb those SOBs to oblivion, but as time passed, I knew, that was the crazed and evil side of me speaking.  Since then, I’ve seen our darker side peeking out in places I’d never noticed before.  I see it in the vehement and vitriolic comments on the internet and in the rhetoric of out politicians, casting their opposition not as citizens who disagree but as enemies of the people or the nation.  I hear it in the callous way we treat those who are different or who disagree with us.   I see it in our tendency to leap to judgement without knowing the facts on one hand, then dismiss obvious wrongdoing with little consequence on the other.

For a while after the towers came down, we we seemed to come together as a nation.  We cried together and we seemed to talking together again, too.  It looked as if politicians might actually begin to work together.  Unfortunately, the horrible images burned into our brains weren’t bright enough to make it last and in the years since, our national mood has become more divisive than ever.   We put REMEMBER 9-11 bumper stickers on our cars and NEVER FORGET decals on our windows, but they are just symbols.  We forget the fundamental lesson of 9-11 … and every other horror burned into out brains.  The world is a dangerous place not because of the evil men and the crazies, it is dangerous because that dark side runs through us all.  If that dark side, our disregard for our fellow man, drives our personal lives and our politics, then the world is a darker place.  And in such a place, the really evil and the really crazy thrive.

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