My father worked in the World Trade Center back in 2001. At thirteen, I only vaguely knew this about him. (What did I care? That clear blue Tuesday morning, it became unforgettable.) Some hours of early grief followed, which involved processing both my dad’s absence and larger, then-unarticulated existential anxieties: me, my family, America, etc.; safety and harmony, etc.
But my father (and everyone in his firm) got out, just like so many others. We were the lucky ones—it took years to understand how that day traumatized me nonetheless.
My point right now though, even as we ask the same questions we did following 9/11 (the more things change…), is that at that time, I possessed a therapeutic ace in the hole. I had a fantastic education, one that had introduced me by 10th grade to Plato, St. Augustine, Descartes, and Kant. In the years that followed 9/11, my community and I engaged in healing and assessment of the situation through the usual tried-and-true methods. We raised American flags. (I also endured some light torment as a French-American, witnessing “freedom fries” and other idiocy.)
But I also had Diogenes. I had Epicurus. I had Kant. Respectively, they forced me in the wake of 9/11 consider my outlook on life, my outlook on death, and my outlook on right and wrong. Plato’s cave gave me a strange hope about the power of education and knowledge—that it leads to wisdom and virtue. In my young mind this was all connected—the wealthy United States, my family’s fairly idyllic home, the spread of knowledge and virtue. I did not feel hatred for the terrorists. (Perhaps I felt pity or something likewise patronizing, but I forgive myself, for how patronizing can any thirteen-year-old be?)
Aside from a good hug, nothing makes a stronger impact on a child than the power of a new idea.
Twelve years on I’m older and have expanded my knowledge of philosophy (adding non-DWEM among other things!), so that I view current events with a more nuanced approach than simply pitting Diogenes’ cynicism against a vaguely American optimism (now I call this capitalism). The news has not changed much. I am thankful for having my father and for my education. Both have changed my life.
Another great post, Tom. I envy your education. As the elite in the US continues to push the idea that education should prepare a person for the job market, I note that the 13-year-old you – patronizing or not – couldn’t hate the terrorists. That’s the liberal arts for you – not irrelevant, but (to some minds) dangerous.