Tuesday, September 10, 2002

December 21st, 1988, I got a phone call at work. "I have to run home to my family, my sister may have been in a plane crash" was the gist of the few words I heard. My boss let me leave and meet him at the apartment, packing furiously and hoping against hope that it wasn't true. We hugged without letting ourselves show much emotion, so he could leave quickly, and he was gone. The news confirmed the awful news, and in the next few days we barely had a chance to speak on the phone, me going to my family for the holidays, he comforting his family and dealing with government officials. The months after that were awful for him, all the questions, and tears, and regrets. I had not ever actually met her, only saw her once in person, as she ran up to us in the Gay Pride March only a few months earlier, spotting her brother, hugging him and looking into his beautiful brown eyes with her almost identical beautiful brown eyes, simply saying "I love you." I noticed the earrings she was wearing, the ones he was so happy to have found, vintage silver and marcasite, for her birthday. I don't think he was "out" to her, but clearly she knew, and was hoping to see him that day. His little sister, beautiful, loving, caring. Gone.

The years since then haven't been good, either, as we as a nation forgot, got over it, moved on. An airport tax for alleged security measures, accusations of one nation or another funding the terrorists, quiet ceremonies on the anniversaries. Do you know the exact same thing can happen again? A bomb in a suitcase, checked in, the passenger doesn't board. No one knows until it's too late. I don't feel comfortable discussing someone else's personal life, having it skimmed over, dissected, and worse, forgotten about. But too often we allow the politicians and news media to hijack events like this to suit their own purposes, proving their patriotism, getting ratings to sell cheeseburgers and deodorant, passing legislation that will advance some scarey agenda without giving the promised security. We let ourselves get cynical, and dismissive, and forget not only the folks we've lost, but forget that we have an obligation to figure out how we can learn from this, demand more reponsibility from government, hold up news media to higher standards of actual journalism. We shut down, its too much, I can't make a difference, and I honestly don't know if I can argue against any of that. 14 years later I clearly remember my mother's helpless face as I asked where she keeps "the hard stuff" when I couldn't sleep that Christmas Eve night. 14 years later I clearly remember my boyfriend crying on the street, middle of a sunny winter afternoon, the sound unbearable, and all I could do was hold his shaking body, letting him lean on me, a loss I won't even dare imagine.

No, it's not the only tragedy, but it quite honestly sickens me when I hear or read something to the effect - so what? more people died some other way, more suffering happened this other way, etc. If something different affects you more, fine, talk about it, do something about it. But it needn't be at the expense of another's loss or tragedy. We heard it in the 80's when we wanted money for AIDS research - "more people die from cancer" - where did that get us? Not enough funding for either, and now more people die from AIDS - but are those same people swayed now? No. It's not here in our country, it's not people like me, etc. We can't fix everything, we can't prevent every loss, of course. But that's not an excuse to do or feel nothing.

Spend your day, or any other doing what works for you, whether its glued to the TV, going to the movies, or perhaps what many many of us are doing, not necesarily announced in public, or even totally consciously, lost in thought, sad, mournful, angry, wondering. One of those ACT UP chants that seems so appropriate in many other contexts: REMEMBER THE DEAD, FIGHT LIKE HELL FOR THE LIVING.