...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Thursday, March 04, 2004
      ( 10:10 AM )

Yesterday was the day that the acting governing body of Iraq was supposed to sign in their new, temporary Constitution. This was a very big deal. After all, getting a Constitution down on paper is a first step to political stability and the success of a state. But the day before the Constitution signing, gigantic bomb blasts killed over 180 people during a very holy day for the Shia Muslims. (More violence is expected).

In light of the tragedy, the governing council suspended the signing and enacted 3 days of mourning for the country.

I have been thinking about this a lot. Only 180 people were killed on Tuesday, a horrible amount, but nowhere near the 3,000 killed here on 9/11. The Iraqi government, despite a hugely important even taking place the next day, cancelled it and everything else and put the country to rest so that Iraqis could mourn and grieve their losses and contemplate the tragedy. After our own massive tragedy two years ago, not only did our government not declare any days of mourning, allow us to grieve or contemplate, it actually imposed on us a standard that seems to me still to be inhuman. We were told to "act like everything is normal!" and "go shopping!" We were encouraged to keep working at our jobs, to go visit Disneyland, and don't worry, the air around Ground Zero is fine, so go about your business! ... and for godsake, don't let them see you cry!

Is it weak to mourn, to grieve? Is there some sort of deficit in a leader if he chooses to allow a few moments, maybe a day, maybe a couple of days for the people of his country who have been forever and tragically altered, to just be still and mourn? There is always time for revenge, there is always time for war. But in this country, it seems there is never a good or appropriate time to simply mourn. We seem to carry this burden of "never let them see you cry" far beyond what is humanly necessary or even wise.

I was only one of millions of people who spent that day in horrific disbelief as I wondered how my friends who worked near the Trade Center were, not knowing if they were dead or alive (thank God, alive, but injured and walked home to Brooklyn covered in ash), and the momentary scare I had knowing my parents were supposed to be on an airplane that morning (their flight had been delayed, thank goodness). But I felt so betrayed when I was told for all intents and purposes that my grief was unacceptable and my desire to just stay home and cuddle up and cry was absolutely unAmerican. I was to get my butt to work and keep productivity high - that will show them!

People unable to express their grieving emotions translated the incredible emotional energy into what, to me, amounted to a facade of patriotism. But what else could they do? Waving American flags was the only accepted expression of recognition of our joint grief it seemed. When I went to visit my local firehouse the Friday after the calamity, and took them cookies and told them how sorry I was for the loss of their comrades and how devastated they must be, they seemed so sad and grateful and surprised. I didn't know any other way to express what I was feeling, which was far more negative than my actions belied.

When I brought these thoughts up to my mom last night, she immediately recalled when JFK was assasinated and how everyone kept saying how graceful and "strong" Jackie was not to cry or show emotion in public. She stoically followed that coffin in front of the entire American public and did not bow her head. And she was so admired for that.

Where is our sense of grief in this country? Why are we not allowed to show the emotion that should so naturally flow after tragedy? What is it that allows us to define "strength" as the absense of emotional expression?

(I won't even go into how this is compounded by the fact that the very government who urged us to totally ignore our grief is now exploiting that latent grief for its own poltical gains.)

In a country across the world, they have no qualms about declaring three whole days for the entire country to mourn after the deaths of 180 people. They did not hesitate to postpone what would have been the single most important day in years for that country in order to allow their people to go through the stages of grief that follow such a tragedy.

And we call them uncivilized.

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