All those lost stories
September 28, 2001
The temptation to remove the peace sign from my car came after a drive to Flemington, not
because of the angry stares I got from the redneck drivers of pickup trucks, but rather because of
the people I met while I spoke about my book. These were good, educated people who had a
legitimate concern about the safety of our country, and as I talked about my collecting human
stories, I realized how much out of touch with that message my protest was.
As much as I excuse my peace sign as an effort to promote peace, I know it symbolizes
opposition to a way of thinking. While most people born after the age of protest might nod over it
as recognition of its power from the 1960s, those of my generation accept the full weight of its
message, that passionate anti-militaristic connotation that enrages men like the Jersey City
Veteran who chased me days ago.
To wear such a symbol or to display it in my car, I am saying that I am against those who wave
flags -- particularly the ultra patriots whose vehicles and houses are so heavy with the stars and
stripes their neighbors grow dizzy from staring. The peace sign is no passive protest, but an
active, enraging element that says the county is not as united as people currently claim. Indeed,
this was my intention.
Yet most people aren't as fervent about their patriotism as those I seek to enrage. Most put out
flags because they do not know how to handle the situation, nor understand the history behind the
attack, and need something like God and country to hold on to during a time when the world has
exploded before their eyes.
To act defiant before such people seems a crime to me, especially as I travel around the state
with my book, professing the amazing value of human life, the untold stories of ordinary people
-- while near where I live and work, 6,000 ordinary people perished and with them, their untold
While waiting to appear, I even read the local newspaper -- a weekly paper I expected to be
filled with flag waving and undying loyalty. I found some of that. I read a story about a crane
operator who had helped construct the World Trade Center only to have to return to help with its
demolition. I read another story about the firefighters who went to the aid of those in that place
and the doctors who had expected to handle the mass of wounded humanity only to discover that
mass dead, not wounded. Yet in the same paper, I read letters from residents in the area who
said America was not free of blame, of how our politics and support of Israel had led to the
crisis that killed 6,000 in New York. These letters also talked about how foreign populations
viewed us when Americans traveled to such places, this letter blasting our arrogance and our
ignorance, and our selfishness.
I also read a Catholic magazine about a priest who had gone to Ground Zero and saw the
remarkable rescue effort, the brotherhood of men working to remove the rubble, dust-covered
heroes struggling to bring order back to our lives. The same chills I felt during the disaster
returned to me as I read, and while I egotistically presumed I was representing the only protest, I
came to understand that America is not stupid and people everywhere reacted initially with
horror and outrage, but have since had time to think out the situation. Even legislators, waving
their flags in support of the President during the week after the disaster, have come to realize the
full implication of the President's desire to wage war on the world.
When I finally got to speak at the library, I found concerned people of every political persuasion,
listening to me -- and I found I could not fill their hearts with hatred or protest, that the answer
for America has to be understanding, and as I spoke I realized just how many stories I could not
collect, how in one ugly moment on September 11, two airplanes silenced 2,000 voices,
removing from the present and future stories we need to hear, stories no one will be able to tell,
not even if I managed to publish 2,000 more books -- not just past stories, but stories these
people have not yet experienced and never will.