Last year, I published a novel, The Arsonist’s Last Words, about a disaster in downtown Orlando, and the city’s response to the tragedy. This week, I meant to post a blog on the fictional anniversary of the fictional event, maybe sell a few books, right? On
|Candlelight Vigil in downtown Orlando
Even as the heroes rushed in to help the wounded on
Having lived for half a century, I can look back on a long list of heartbreaking days, beginning with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy quickly followed. As a kid, I remember thinking it was safer not to dream. A crazy man with a gun could come along and blow your dreams away.
Fast-forward to September 11, a day that shattered every dream we had as a country. We grew up safe on these shores. No one had ever dared attack us, and if they did, we bombed them into oblivion. America was a beacon of freedom in the world, a shining city on a hill. Who didn’t love us?
How could we comprehend the level of hatred required to kill 3,000 people?
“Incomprehensible” is a word we often use at times like these. We can’t wrap our minds around the loss. Grief turns to anger. After 9/11, we sought to avenge the deaths of our brothers and sisters by fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We like to say that the terrorists didn’t win, but now, we’re even at war with ourselves. Can you remember a more bitter political time? Name the subject—immigration, health care, gun control, gay rights—and we’re at each other’s throats. Bin Laden couldn’t have been happier. Since 9/11, we’ve lived with this ever-present fear, a gnawing anxiety that something bad is about to happen, and thanks to our 24-hour news cycle, something always does. Orange is our new normal on the terror scale. There isn’t a gun big enough to kill the bogeyman.
As a writer, I try to put myself in the bogeyman’s place. In
If I believe in the God our politicians are so fond of quoting, I must believe that every man is my brother. Not just the ones who go to my church. Not just the ones with the same color skin. Not just the ones who wish me well. I have to love—and forgive—the ones who plot my death, and the ones who shoot my kids with a Bushmaster rifle.
This isn’t the American Way, I know. Turning the other cheek is not the way we roll. We’d rather blast the hell out of our enemies, and fry the ones we can reach with a plug. Please don’t get me wrong—I want justice for the victims. I just don’t want it at the expense of our own souls. We’ve grown too fond of hatred in this country, and that’s what the terrorists really want.
Patton Oswalt very eloquently told the Boston bombers, “The good outnumber you and they always will.” His words gave me comfort, and so did those of Bruce Schneier of The Atlantic, who said, “There’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.”
I refuse to live in fear. I will not hate my enemies. I’ll pretend this crack in my heart isn’t there. So help me God.