Coming to terms with tragedy

In the wake of Sept. 11, a lot of people have talked about how everything has changed. A lot has, and yet a lot has not. I am still an unfocused senior dreading graduation. But what I worry about is different. The pit of anxiety in my stomach does not come from concern about finding a job, but rather from worry over where our country is heading.

I never really bothered to read the news. I was lazy. I tried not to get worked up about things I couldn’t do anything about what was the point? Recent events changed that. I have made time to attend lectures. I went to my first Gaudino Forum. I finally got around to registering online with the New York Times (arguably, not an objective source of news, but maybe as objective as a news source can be). In any case, it is better than the Purple Bubble I have happily employed as a force field from the world for the last three years.

I can no longer afford apathy, as our country struggles to understand what is happening. In order for me to decide what I feel about our foreign and domestic policies, I have to gather information, process it and then dissect it with my peers.

Education on the issues is the first step towards resolution. We are the future leaders, generals, political activists, social workers, teachers and parents of this nation. It is imperative that we be informed as well as open up to other points of view. Listen, read, discuss, but above all, never forget others are just as distraught and confused as you and that we all need support. National security may be the government’s priority, but shouldn’t our neighbors’ welfare be ours?

The events of the past month have put things into perspective for me. The first few days after the attacks left me unwilling to do my schoolwork. It seemed irrelevant. It still does, to some extent. And yet I do it. However mundane it is, it creates order and routine in a society anticipating terrorism every day. But even as I finish a paper, I am aware that it is a small part of my life. What holds more weight and what means more are the things that aren’t graded. I try to spend more time with my friends, attend more campus events, talk to strangers, and call my family more often.

We are all affected by what has been happening and trying to come to terms with it. Most people, myself included, refer to “Sept. 11” rather than put into words what actually happened that day. Maybe no other phrase can capture the full extent of the damage and its impact upon us—physically, emotionally and psychologically. As school started up again, I was worried about post-graduation (as most seniors are). Where would I be living in a year’s time? Would I have a good, steady job? But now, the quest for a job does not seem as important as whether there will be a draft or thinking about possible resolutions to this crisis. Will my friends be safe or heading off to war? Will we be involved in a long-term conflict or is peace on the horizon? I may not be able to influence foreign policy by myself, but I can change my attitudes. I want to help, even if it is just by opening myself up to strangers. I am much more aware of people and that they might be coping with anxiety and grief beneath the surface. I try to be more patient and friendly. I was appalled to hear of harassment of Arabs and South Asians at Williams and elsewhere, so I try and compensate for the prejudice our countrymen swiftly direct at innocents. I want to prove that not all Americans are quick to judge, closed to strangers, trigger-happy and power-hungry.

I do not know if I can change the world, but I cannot just accept it as it stands anymore. Passive observation is no longer an option. We all need to make a concerted effort to reformulate our opinions, make sure they are grounded in true facts, and reassess our priorities. The World Trade Center has fallen and thousands of American civilians are dead only a hundred plus miles from Williams. America is dropping both bombs and aid on Afghanistan. Such momentous world events make it hard to worry about material things. People are the most precious thing in our lives we must take care of them. We all have the chance to make an impact on the people around us. How we choose to use that power to help or to harm, is up to us.