"Or Did You Report?"

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A 20 year-old reader writes:

I've just finished "The Dark Side" - the second half of it more or less since 12 pm this afternoon. Last night, sitting in one of those cafes they stick on the sides of Barnes and Nobles, I almost broke down crying. Instead, I went to the poetry section and quietly read aloud a couple of Hektor's speeches in the Iliad -- something oddly reassuring about them to me.

Scattered throughout my copy of the book are prayers for forgiveness. That was all I kept thinking as I read. Normally, I'm angry about this. With this account, I only felt a deep, tremendous sadness.

I finished it a few hours ago, sitting on the rocks in front of Lake Michigan - it's the most peaceful place I know of in the Chicago area. Afterward, I watched the beginnings of tonight's moonrise and listened to Leonard Cohen sing "Democracy." By those final defiant stanzas I had this inexplicable feeling that we're going to muddle through this. And I remembered he'd written a song about 9/11 for his album Dear Heather -- a short, raspy, muzaked thing, like most of the album, but it closes by posing what was, I feel, the most prescient thing asked in any of the post-9/11 music or literature I've read/listened to: 

"Did you go crazy,
or did you report,
on that day
they wounded New York?"

If there's any comfort to be found in Mayer's account, or in any of the stories coming out about this administration's overreach, it's in the stories of those who didn't go crazy.

Who reported -- in both senses that Cohen made a point of sticking in the liner notes: for duty, and to others. They fought against it, and it was a constant reminder that while my faith in government has been shaken and damaged - George Bush has transformed me from a liberal/progressive into a Burkean - none of us should lose faith in the ability of good people to check that government. Sometimes, as we've seen over the last few years, they lose.  But even when they lose, that they chose to fail rather than surrender or not even try at all, to echo Eliot, keeps it alive.

Perhaps like what Hektor tried to tell Andromache in the Iliad, when he acknowledges the impermanence of all human things but says he still must fight and likely die for Troy.

We're lucky we had men like that in the Justice Department and military during these last seven years; we ought to pray that they will always be there.  And, I think, it's the struggle of sustaining a free state as a free state to recognize that we all, in some way, may be called to such a duty in our lives, and strive, should that time come, to at least do no dishonor to those who stood at the pass, and all the passes since.

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