Posted by: MC | January 15, 2011

Tucson, 9/11 and a Publication Date (!)

It’s happening!  The EX:Change project’s interviews from early 2009 are going into a book.  The tentative title – You Say Change, We Say….

And Loud Mouth ( is the perfect publisher – a nonprofit in Brooklyn devoted to issues of social importance.  Here’s one thing they say about themselves.  “Our projects offer an innovative, creative and artistic perspective on important topics that concern the entire human family.”  Cool, huh?  Fortunately, the editorial staff agrees with the EX:C project on the importance of listening across differences.  Yes, Yes, Yes!

My enthusiasm for this new partnership is obvious (did I mention YAY!!? or overuse exclamation marks, yet?).  At the same time, the significance of the month and year this book will enter the public market is not going missing on me.  It will have been ten years since planes crashed into the towers on Manhattan.

We are all changed.  In the wake of September 11, 2001 we have had to change.

In that time there have been good changes, many things have remained the same and some have changed for the worse.  That’s the way it is with change and time anyway, isn’t it?  There’s really no way around it.

All rationalization aside, though, a new and achingly poignant fact keeps crashing around in the front room of my mind.  A little girl born 9-11-2001 is dead – shot in the mayhem in Arizona a week ago.  Birth in the middle of horrific crisis – followed 9 years and 3 months later with her death as part of another unimaginable tragedy.

Poetry is poetry.

Whether she had died in this way or not, Christina Taylor Green’s life, like any life, was poetic.  Still, for now, the agony of loss overwhelms any but the most gut-wrenching sense of coincidence.

Like the shock of 9/ll, the horror in Tucson is now historical fact.  There is no taking it back.  Many leaders in our country, elected and otherwise and, no doubt, countless thoughtful people of all ages across this land have given voice to the true opportunity that resides in crisis, its grief, its memory.  We have no choice in the face of these changes, but the choices are vast for what we learn and how we act in response.

How do we really want to be with each other in the world?

How do we want to be with ourselves?

The questions can become tedious.  We can get tired in our dismay and grief – especially as the days continue to come and go with their unpredictable range of difficulties and satisfactions.  Life continues to be life.  So, how do learning and change take hold?  There’s likely not a teacher or parent who hasn’t considered this.  And, overthinking is useless for sure.

No matter my analysis, I can’t ever know what would have turned circumstances to prevent the murders in Tucson.  I can’t know what would have made it so the twin towers were still standing.  None of us can know these things.  We can’t know them for any in the contagion of crises that dot human history.  More troubling, none of us can prevent future crises.  They will happen.  Each will be a time for feeling horror and for mourning.  Each will be an opportunity to learn.

Does that mean we all bail?  Does that mean this whole life thing is just too hard with its guarantee of pain and suffering?  Do we allow the fact that we live in uncertainty to shut us down?

We have that option.  It is one among what my teacher, Sid Simon, called “the universe of alternatives.”  Over and over we are given the opportunity to become better at this living thing.  One profound way that happens is through being a part of community.

Late yesterday afternoon I rushed along surface roads and down an entrance ramp only to get trapped on a cramped stretch of interstate.  It was well past sunset when I finally got to the Willamette Dental Group’s Tigard Specialty Office.  I’d called ahead, but the message hadn’t been delivered.  Nonetheless, the dental assistant and staff who had since contacted me to guide me safely in on an alternate route were still there and the dentist smiled and said, “Great to see you.  Now the real fun begins.”

That’s the way it’s gone with these folks.  Everybody brings a spirit of improvisation.  Everybody is willing to let the story be of people in time showing up to the circumstances with respect and good humor.  The three of us in the treatment room could have found plenty of things about which to disagree.  I’m pretty confident we don’t support the same candidates or seek out the same forms of entertainment, but there was no less camaraderie in the room.  They were applying their art – their service.  I was receiving the benefits.  We were all in it together.  Each of us had gone his or her extra mile.

We spoke of Tucson, of young Christina, of the President’s speech, of the generous options before our country and our hopes and confidences in the essential goodness of most American citizens.  When I left, my teeth were in perfect repair.  We exchanged best possible wishes.  We exchanged hugs.

I know.  Hugs.  How potentially cliché, west coast fufu is that?  Depends on how you read it and what you want, I guess.

The interactions in community, even temporary communities like last night in the dental office, help us learn as individuals.  And what we do and say to ourselves as individuals influences how we are in our communities.  How we speak and spend time with ourselves matters as much as how we speak and spend time in community.  It’s an infinite dance between the realms of knowing and being.

The day after the events in Tucson, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show said this, “I hope you will read up about those who were hurt and or killed in this shooting. You will be comforted by just how much anonymous goodness there really is in the world. You realize that people that you don’t even know, that you have never met, are leading lives of real dignity and goodness.”

That’s what I found on the EX:Change journey.  That’s what I now have the opportunity to give back in the form of a book.  And it’s what I found last night in Tigard.  Dignity and goodness are around us all the time.  Teaching all the time because, although crises are a part of being alive, we are most basically seeking the same things – health and a share of happiness for our families and communities and for ourselves.  In that we have a wealth of capacity for kindness and need not doom ourselves to history’s repetition.

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