Essay #3 for ENG 101 Sample Narrative Essay About 10 o’clock in the morning on September 11, 2001, I was talking on the phone with an archaeologist who works in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwestern Washington. I had been trying to reach him for a couple of weeks to ask questions about the historic Klickitat Trail, and we had finally connected. As we talked about a subject that I knew fascinated both of us, his answers were strangely slow and quiet. When I got off of the phone and checked for messages, there had been a call from my husband at his office. He said that something had happened in New York and I should turn on the TV. For the next hour, I sat watching the replay of the attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon and the reports of another hijacked plane. I kept thinking I should get up and go back to the work of writing my book on historic trails, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t just go on as if nothing had happened. I had lived in New York City for 13 years. Both my children were born there. My landlord, who owned the row-house we rented and lived downstairs, had worked at the World Trade Center when the parking garage had been bombed. I called one good friend who still lived in our Brooklyn neighborhood and worked in the city but remembered that she was probably on her vacation hiking in Peru. Amazingly, my call went through and I left her a message; for the rest of the week, I would be unable to reach her. Because we had moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1981, I experienced the attacks from a distance, but I knew the streets around the trade center. I had worked for a stock brokerage firm with a 2 Wall Street address. I knew both the public coldness of New Yorkers and the passion with which they typically respond to any emergency. I know the city’s problems well and had chosen to leave and raise a family elsewhere, but I also know that New York City is the heart of America. So the attacks on New York were an attack on our heart. My son, raised in the suburbs, has in his young adulthood embraced religious beliefs that are much more absolutist than mine. He sees the world in white and black, good and evil. For a couple of years, we had had a running discussion: me taking a more relativistic, nuanced, tolerant view; him arguing that my very tolerance was an absolute stand. For a brief time, our views of the world came together in this moment. Although I can understand—in the sense of explain—the reasons why Al Queda attacked the United States, there is no justification for killing more than 3,000 civilians. None of us is completely innocent, even of what our government does in a democracy. Western civilization is not superior to every other civilization; United States power is not always used benevolently. I certainly hadn’t liked the foreign policies and human policies of the Bush Administration. But such a slaughter was evil. Peter and I could agree—this act was pure evil. From that moment, however, our reactions have gone in different paths. Although I did not oppose the attacks on the Taliban and Al Queda in Afghanistan, I did march to try to prevent the war on Iraq. I have become more politically mobilized to shape my own government’s policies if not more religiously absolutist. I have been momentarily shaken out of my withdrawal from public life, but my cynicism has not been shaken. Indeed, it has hardened. This weekend I watched my 79 year-old-father go through airport security. My father is a tall man and distinguished in his day, but he suffers now from some mental incapacity and confusion, which did not save him from scrutiny. He had to take off his shoes, unbuckle his belt, hold out his arms, be wanded from top to bottom and finally allowed to shuffle off to his gate, all the while separated from family members who would have helped him if we had been allowed past security clearance: all of this in the name of national security. As a nation, the United States reacted to this historic event not with increased compassion and engagement in the world and with increased sensitivity to the effects American national policies have on others. Instead the nation reacted with fear, with pugnaciousness and a reckless invasion and dangerous occupation based on a trumped-up pretext. The United States government acted unilaterally in going to war on Iraq, spurning the wisdom of countries who had sympathized with us after the attack. Thirty thousand people—ten times more than were killed on September 11--are killed by an earthquake in Iran, but Iran is a part of what President Bush has declared an axis of evil, so any aid we could provide would be met with suspicion. Our own citizens have lost freedom of movement; some have lost freedom from unexplained imprisonment. The Supreme Court will soon decide if detainees have lost too much freedom. Our borders have tightened; our convictions have become more absolute; American citizens of Middle Eastern descent and refugees have been harassed. An old man has lost dignity because young men acted like martyrs and men in power responded like cowboys.
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