Approximately 400 years ago, when I decided that I wanted to do good things in the world, I set out to become a public interest lawyer. Then I discovered the torture known as the Socratic method,* reflected upon my experience in public policy while a summer intern in Illinois government, and set out to become a policy person. That lasted about a decade, when I set out to become a policy person who also was a creative writer. I was an idealist. I wanted to make my mark on the world. After I dropped out of law school and sunk into a depression about the mess I was sure I made of my life, my friend asked me what I envisioned my retirement party would be like. I said I hoped that people would talk about my legacy of instigating positive change.
Oh, how I laugh at my innocence! Fuck a legacy. These days, I'm just happy if I can get through a day with minimal brain damage to myself and the people around me. It's the whole world that's gone mad, I swear.
On my way home from Dublin, I sat next to a woman approximately my mother's age. She was chatty, and we discussed a few normal strangers-sitting-next-to-one-another-on-a-seven-hour-flight topics. She seemed very nice. Then she began about "the thing they are building near ground zero."
I closed my eyes for a second. If I pretended she didn't say anything, maybe she really didn't. When I opened them, she was still talking about how people she knew died that day and it was insulting to their memories to build something "like that" down there and they should just find another place, as if there are hundreds of sites all over Manhattan waiting to be developed.
"I think a community center is a great idea," I said.
"But they shouldn't build it there," she said again, as if the people building a community center with religious space were the exact same people who flew the fucking plane into the building. "It's like if the Japanese built something near Pearl Harbor."
"Actually, there is a Japanese cultural center near Pearl Harbor," I informed her. I should have also mentioned that the building that is to be renovated into a community center is already being used for prayers and no one was upset until they wanted to make it a nicer facility that the whole community could benefit from.
"Oh, but they still shouldn't do this. It's very upsetting."
No, what is upsetting is that people can't acknowledge that the entire Muslim world does not fucking bear responsibility for the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001. It seems beyond their comprehension to suggest that that this line of "thinking" is as absurd as blaming every Japanese person for Pearl Harbor or every German for the Holocaust or every Serb for Srebrennica.
"I don't agree with that," I said. "I think we will have to agree to disagree on this." I then picked up the story I wrote about my time volunteering to house women traveling to New York City for second trimester abortions to edit it. My hands were shaking and it was hard to mark up the paper. I wondered what she would think of me if she knew that I supported Cordoba House and helped kill the innocent unborn. This made me laugh a little.
Eventually we began chatting again and the woman apologized to me for bringing up the "mosque." However, I'm still depressed about the whole thing. I seriously give up on people.
*Dude, if I don't know the answer to a question, asking it repeatedly is not going to make one magically spring to my brain. Maurice (the hamster who runs on the wheel that powers said brain) does note work like that. He runs faster and faster in a blind panic and then collapses into a pile of wood shavings in the corner, curled up in the fetal position and rocking back and forth.