To My Baby Girl, After the Terror

Published on Alternet,, September 13, 2001

To my Dear Daughter,

I was not where I needed to be last night.

You are only ten weeks old. And last night, only your mother was able to hold you, and kiss you goodnight, and hug you, and wipe up your spit. I was somewhere else.

Tonight too, I will call home, and speak to your mother, who gave you life amidst such hope and pain. And in the background, I will hear you cry, as if you know something is terribly wrong. Because babies can feel things the rest of us have learned to repress.

And yet when I finally call I find you laughing, consumed with a desire to do nothing more than reach out and bat at the soft dangling stars and moons that hang from your mobile.

I sigh a deep sigh of relief, the air escaping my lungs and signifying recognition that ten-week-old babies do not understand mass death. You have only begun, indeed, to understand your own life.

It is your parents who must impose upon your innocent world, with the truth that one day mommy or daddy may leave for work and not come back. It is your parents who must impose upon your world, altering forever your smiling, drooling face that now we find ourselves viewing through the bitter tears of our own disillusionment.

It is your parents who must explain our nation’s talk of massive retaliation, and hunting down those responsible for mass death, and inflicting upon them some more mass death, to convince still others, once and for all, that mass death really doesn’t pay, and — and I’m sorry to use this kind of language, but frankly, you won’t read this until you are much older — that our collective national dick is bigger than theirs.

Sadly, as anyone who lives long enough surely learns, it is always and forever about the length and circumference of one’s national phallus. Size, it seems, does matter, whether for missiles, or tall buildings, or the airplanes that bring them down. Their shapes (and make a note of it now for future reference) are no coincidence.

So if Osama Bin Laden is the man of the hour, then Al Haig and Hank Kissinger and their students — who, as it turns out know a little something about mass death — are apt to make sure he knows how killing is really done. Because all killers have tutors, and all of their classes are full.

How many people can they kill? Can we kill?

“Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.” That’s what the bumper sticker prophets say.

But God has better things to do, I suspect, than to sort through the tangled mess that is both the New York financial district and the human condition at this late date.

I have been in those buildings. I have dropped my quarters in the silver, shiny viewfinders that you could look through, and get a close up view of Greenwich Village, or the Empire State Building, or the Hudson River, or Fort Lee, New Jersey, if for some inexplicable reason you felt the need to see Fort Lee with the assistance of a 1000x-magnification lens. I have dropped my quarters in slots you will never see, in buildings you will never enter, on observation decks that no longer exist, except in my mind. And I have listened as the timer counted down the time left before the viewfinder would fade to black.

And I can imagine looking thru the viewfinder and wondering why that plane looks so damned close.

I can imagine looking uptown as the plane came closer, and closer, and seeing Harlem, and thinking, Damn, shoulda’ gone to Sylvia’s for soul food. ‘Cuz Harlem was one of the safest places in New York yesterday. Funny how even terrorists know which victims count most in America.

If America wants safety, we’d best get our asses to the ‘hood. Get our boogie shoes to 123rd street. Move immediately into the Robert Taylor Homes, or Cabrini Green, or the lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. Do not pass go let alone Wall Street. For there we are like sitting ducks.

And now what baby girl?

Will we shed the blood of innocent babies so much like you, to demonstrate to the world how precious your life is? You had best hope not my dear. Because if so, you will never be safe. Not now, and not when you are old enough to understand, and tremble, like I am.

We will be signing a death warrant. If not yours, perhaps that of some other baby girl or boy, however many years hence. Because victims have long memories, and what goes around, most definitely goes around, and around, and around, and around.

And all the tough talk and swagger, and muscle flexing and chest thumping, and pontifications that the folks who did this are cowards, cannot conceal the fact that so far there are no brave souls emerging from the muck. There is nothing brave about committing mass murder to be sure. But neither is there bravery in adding to the body count.

Neither is there bravery in Senator Hatch’s testosterone-soaked diatribe about “going after the bastards,” or officials saying no options are being ruled out, including nuclear weapons.

What a lesson that would teach. Like stealing the stereo of the guy who took your car to prove how much we respect private property. And then your VCR is at risk, and his watch, and your jewelry. Jewelry you could pawn on e-bay on any other day, but not tonight. ‘Cuz folks are too busy bidding on chunks of the 39th floor.

So welcome to the world, dear baby girl. And sleep well tonight. And remain young for as long as you can. For one day, not so far from this day, everything will change again. As it always has.

And rivers of blood will be added to rivers of blood, all of it red and flowing downhill as blood is wont to do, as it seeks its own level. And mountains of bodies higher than the towers brought down on this day will be stacked: In the name of God.

In the name of money.

In the name of security.

In the name of revenge.

In the names of people with names like Osama and George and Ariel, or Allah, or Jesus.

Or to satisfy our desire for a brand of reality TV so real, that eating rats on Fear Factor will seem like a day at Disney.

And your alarm system will not protect you baby girl. The police cannot protect you. Missile defense sure as shit can’t protect you. Even I can’t protect you, and I love you more than anything or anyone in this world. So my inadequacy is profound indeed.

I wish that love could protect you, not just mine but that of others. But I’m not sure how much love is left. It’s on markdown, on clearance, but no buyers today. Love is too expensive for some, even when on sale. Too costly in time, if not in money.

‘Cuz although money can’t buy you love, enough money can buy lots of cruise missiles, and napalm, and mass death.

It really isn’t complicated, baby girl. Most things aren’t.

You’ll learn this. Or more to the point, you’ll learn it and then forget it, as age makes you add layers of complication to what once seemed obvious. And that complexity will be called brilliance by your culture: nuance, depth.

But really it’s just mostly vapid bullshit. Sterility posing as wisdom.

In the end it comes down to just a few simple truths. And while I wish I had thought of them myself, the simple truth about these simple truths is that they’ve been said before, and better than I could, by James Baldwin, who did not write them for this purpose, though they strangely seem to fit.

First, that those who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast upon the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.

And secondly, this:

“One discovers the light in darkness. That is what darkness is for. But everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is a light somewhere, to know that in oneself, waiting to be found there is a light. What the light reveals is danger, and what it demands is faith…I know we often lose…and how often one feels that one cannot start again. And yet, on pain of death, one can never remain where one is. The light. The light. One will perish without the light…For nothing is fixed, forever, and forever, and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have…The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. And the moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”

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