I weep for the children in New York and Washington, D.C., who will never see their parents again. I weep for the young Marine who could not find his fiance in the smoldering Pentagon Building. I weep for the spouses who may have worked on different floors of the World Trade Center and who forgot that day to say "I love you" to each other as they exited the elevator. I weep for the passengers on the hijacked airplanes and the terror they had to endure before death.
I am in awe of those who stepped out of their fear and did courageous things. I weep for the firefighters, policemen and other heroes who worked to rescue people from the burning buildings.
I weep at the undermining of the sacred value of life.
I'm used to weeping. I've had plenty of practice of fighting back tears as I read the morning newspapers about Israelis massacred by Palestinian suicide bombers, about Palestinians murdered by vengeful Israelis, about members of African tribes hunted down and hacked to death by members of other tribes, about Catholics and Protestants assassinating each other in northern Ireland.
Closer to my home in the West, I weep for the beaten woman found near death in a motel bathtub, I weep for the woman raped, the transient murdered in his hobo camp. I am tired of weeping.
In my life I have worked as an artist, firefighter, writer, contra-dance caller. I like to think my work helped improve peoples' lives in some small way. Today, I feel overwhelmed and discouraged. I feel lost and a failure.
How could this have happened? Some will say it's the beginning of the biblical End Times. For a number of years, members of a local Missoula sect, Bahais Under the Provisions of the Covenant, have predicted that the World Trade Center towers would be bombed by terrorists. That would in turn lead to a nuclear war and the end of the world. I still believe they're wrong.
But I wonder how foreigners, especially Third World inhabitants, view the citizens of the United States? Do they understand that most of us are not rich; that we work hard? That our personal treasures are restricted to flush toilets, television sets, a dependable car? That may seem like riches to many of them, but in other aspects of life we are poor.
"A nation of singers and dancers." That's how a black slave before the Civil War described his life in Africa before being shackled and transported to the fledgling United States. In some ways his life in Africa was richer than mine is in America.
Although many young Americans want to be rock stars, as a nation we don't do much to own our cultural lives. We spend our money where we are directed. We follow like sheep to bad movie after bad movie. We are afraid to sing in public. We don't dance unless we've had a few drinks at a bar.
If you disagree with me, please shout me down. Breathe new life into my soul. Let me know that I am not a lone voice in the wilderness. I need you.
Lead me to your community and I will lead you to mine. Then maybe together, we can lead the world in ways that count -- not just in economic matters.
For the most part, I believe America is inhabited by moral, sympathetic, caring people. We hurt inside when someone misunderstands us. We bleed when someone attacks us. We are also a forgiving people. But it only takes a few greedy Americans to soil our true image in the world and encourage people to hate us.
As I weep today, I fear the wave of hate and vengeance that may sweep our nation. I fear we may lash out and perpetuate this violence. I pray that the religious zealots who hate democracy so fiercely help us understand why they become murderers to advance their cause. I hope we're ready to listen before blindly striking back.
-- Mark Matthews is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He writes in Missoula, Montana.