November 2, 2001

Commentary

From the Ashes May There Be Winds of Change

by Ernie McCray

The last time I went through what we are going through I was only three years old. But, oh, I remember it all so well. The feel of it. The vocabulary of it. Indelible memories. Incredible memories.

One day I'm a child living in a world of fairy tale fantasies. And then there comes a day of infamy, and suddenly I cannot stop worrying about small yellow men, dubbed "Japs" and "kamikazes" by society, flying their planes into my little duplex, killing themselves just to kill me. Woe was me. I was frozen in my tracks as these demonized beings stared at me from the colorful posters at the rallies in the park near my house, their eyes drawn in an evil looking exaggerated slant, balanced inches above teeth only an orthodontist could love. Blowing them away was the rallying cry of the day, the prayer to the Lord above.

And were they ever blown away and, of course, being a child there was not a lot I could do or say.

But now I am sixty-three, a bit worldly as I face these new days of infamy. And this time around I can say in sincerity: Hey, this war deal ain't all that it's cracked up to be. No sirree. Take it from me. And it absolutely should not be what we want our children to see if we want to pass on to them a little wisdom they can use down roads to come in the 21st Century. Does anybody hear me?

But so far what our children are seeing, what they are hearing, what they are feeling, is what I saw and heard and felt as a child during world War II. Same rhythm. Same tempo. Same sounds. Only the enemy is new. Arabs. Muslims. And a Sikh or two. For me this is classic deja vu.

And since children see and children do, they will do down the line what they see us do at this very time. So what seed do we want to plan in their fragile souls and ever questioning minds?

For sure we want a world where terrorists are now allowed to roam around free so our children should see us rounding up the kind of beings who can cause so much pain and misery. But our children, watching intently, heard us, after the buildings fell, proclaim, "The world will never be the same," and then the next word out of our mouths, before we could even begin to absorb our losses or think straight, was, and what we are now engaged in is: war. War. Sounds like the same old same old to me.

In the wake of this horrific tragedy, our children are seeing us do unto others what has been done unto our New York City sisters and brothers. My, my, my, must they have died in vain? Is war all we can come up with in their name? Damn, what a shame.

From the ashes of those who died the winds of change must blow. From the ashes of those who died we must somehow rise above vengeful eye for an eye mentality and truly shine brightly before our children and, indeed, before the world, showing them and all of humanity new ways of being. What the world needs now, as we were once told, in a pretty song, is love sweet love. That's the only thing that there's just too little of.

And could there be a more loving act than owning up to one's errors, to one's own wicked ways? Shouldn't our children, for all the tears we have brought to so many eyes throughout the world, hear our apologies to that very world so that they, down the line, aren't weighed down by our sins: the CIA, for example, training the terrorists who brought Allende down in Chile, making way for a villain named Pinochet; our backs, for too many years, turned to the cries of Black South Africans who were terrorized as a way of life; and, on our own shores, the free reign given, for many a day, to lynchers and burners and bombers known as the KKK. And who propped up Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, by the way? The truth might set our children free.

And the truth is: these moments, by their very nature, could be the catalyst for change. With our children as our witness, we are not far off course, even with war in the background. Our children must be impressed as we, in all our human colors, pulled wounded bodies, both dead and alive, from ghastly burning debris. Our children's lives must be enriched as we stand in lines by the hundreds, giving blood, and raising money for the rebuilding of lives. Our children are exposed to genuine acts of caring as we stand up for our Arab and Muslim neighbors who need understanding and protection from ignorance and misguided vengeance. Our children learn how to deal with grief as we share songs and poetry and prose, soothing our souls. These are the paths that can unable us to reach our full potential as human beings to love and reach out to each other.

Our children will remember these moments ever so well. The feel of it. The vocabulary of it. Their memories will be indelible. Their memories will be incredible.

And when these moments evolve into an era, rising to the surface, at another time in a form of deja vu, will our children memories be fond ones of us going about ending racism and poverty and misery and suffering both at home and abroad? Will the images in our children's minds portray us more as diffusers of tensions, a nation dropping more food and clothes for the displayed than explosives and badwill that fuel animosity and endanger peace?

Affirmative replies to such questions would mean that, from the ashes of our dearly departed, humankind was lifted to higher ground and the world became a better place. In the winds of change our loved ones will not have died in vain.

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