In Defense of Poetry

"This Fragile Moment" by Janna Turoff,
SLC Alumna

The following essay was written, Tuesday morning September 18, 2001, one week after the twin towers collapsed. Seeing so many people displaying the American flag in countless ways almost everywhere I looked, disturbed me. I realized that all of the flag waving was reminding me of the intolerant, violent, hateful acts that have been committed by people waving the American flag claiming to be 'God fearing Americans'. My gut reaction to the American flag has not been a warm feeling of patriotism.

However, the night I put the following thoughts on paper, I was contemplating the symbolism of the flag and I realized that it is actually a very radical symbol.

There is only one term in this essay that you may not be familiar with, that term is Tui Chui. Tui Chui is the Indonesian term used for sparring in Silat. Silat, is an Indonesian form of kung fu.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the US Pentagon the American flag has come out of its hiding place and is being flown, carried and worn by people all over the world. This is a very powerful symbol and is quite relevant at this moment in time.

As many of us did in our youth, schoolchildren across America say the pledge of allegiance every morning, yet we don't always think about what we are pledging.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
and to the republic for which it stands
one nation
under God
with liberty and justice for all

Liberty and justice for all. This is a radical notion .

This phrase has become part of the national rhetoric in a way that we don't think about its significance. Think of the power and meaning of this concept independent of nationalist jargon. Imagine what the world would look and feel like if all of our communities were just and free.

"Liberty and justice for all" is the guiding principle of our nation and we must not lose sight of it amidst the immediate fear and anguish we are feeling. Instead we must breathe new life into these ideas. It takes bravery to stand strong for liberty and justice for all people throughout the world.

As we decide on our next course of action we must act according to our principles and not let fear and anger propel us to act unjustly. We are a nation of law. We cannot permit hurt pride and desire for revenge to force us down a path we will come to regret in a more sober time.

This is a time for sobriety. A time to use our great skills of reason and compassion.

The World Trade Center has collapsed leaving us in a fertile void. For this brief extraordinary moment in time, if we clear away the confusion that our fear creates, we can see clearly the opportunities and the dangers that lay before us.

We stand at a crossroads. As in Tui Chui whenever one can be thrown, the other can be thrown as well. We are standing in the fragile, sacred moment right before the throw. Terrorists have stirred intense fear, anger and a sense of helplessness throughout the USA and maybe the world. We are at a point where we can be thrown off course, we can lose sight of our values the foundation our country was founded on, our goals of liberty and justice for all. Or, we can stand strong and the terrorists can be thrown. The decision for now is ours.

If we allow ourselves to be led by these feelings of fear, anger and helplessness (our passions) without the guidance of reason we will go down. If we use reason in equipoise (balance) with our passions we will stand strong. As in Plato's metaphor of the charioteer, the passions can spur us on to action and reason can guide these actions so that we act with intelligence not out of ignorance that has been blinded by fear.

There is a tremendous opportunity before us. We are living in a brief moment in time during which the world of business as usual and the way life will be lived in the future has parted like the sea. We are being told by the powers that be "to get back to normal" "resume normal activity" "don't let these acts change us, because that would allow the terrorists to win". I think that if we don't allow these acts to change us we will miss the set of opportunities before us.

Maybe the lives we were living and considered 'normal' last week need to be reassessed. Maybe we the American people need to take this opportunity to question the dominant paradigm. Is what we consider 'normal day to day life' in America healthy for Americans? Healthy for our brothers and sisters all over the world? Healthy for the planet? Does our lifestyle help create a world of liberty and justice for all people throughout the world or is it in some ways a hindrance?

I see an opportunity here to ask questions, to visualize the future we want and to move in the direction of creating our vision. We are always creating the future through our actions, sometimes we pay more attention and put more thought into this activity than other times.

The World Trade Center has collapsed, we can fill the void with violence, more intolerance and hatred or we can make different choices. We can use this fertile void to sow the seeds of harmony. We can work together with nations, people around the world. We can LISTEN. We can open our eyes, which seem to have been shut so tight, and SEE what is happening around us. Pay attention to how people are living and feeling around the world. What kind of world are we living in? Is this the kind of world we want?

To be sure the United States of America is a work in progress. We do not live in a world in which there is liberty and justice for all. Some would argue that within our own borders we have not yet met this goal.

The challenge that is before us is to continue to strive for justice and liberty not to seek revenge.

We are not alone in the world. We must be sensitive to the needs of others and we must be open to receiving support from our friends. If we behave like we are alone and don't seek out the support of our communities we make ourselves more vulnerable. We need to give and receive, to share with an open heart.

This is a fragile moment.