Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A different kind of 9/11 Memorial

We all know the date’s importance to Americans. The media runs as many specials as possible, newspapers are filled with commemoration pages and everyone who has a flag remembers to fly it. The only bit of this “Americana” that I participated in was when a friend requested I keep my headlights on as a tribute. I seemed like a good idea.

Now don’t think I don’t appreciate what happened that day. I do. It was horrible and our safe little world cracked wide open. Land of the Free got smacked in the face when we’ve always believed we were invincible. After all that stupidity between the North and the South, we learned fighting on home soil was not progressive or productive. The old saying about learn from history or be doomed to repeat it is still important.

But so is living in the present. And hoping for the future.

I did two “pro-active” things yesterday that will make me think of 9/11 in a different vein. There are people in our lives we cherish and those we…tolerate. Often the ones on the Try-to-be-nice-to List aren’t lovable or have many redeeming qualities visible to the naked eye. I’ve discovered two folks with 9/11 birthdays: one is a lovely lady named Ruthella who attends my senior center and the other is the maintenance guy at the bowling alley we visit each week. Ruthella comes from a generation, the “greatest generation” and would feel wrong about bemoaning the fact that “her day” is now a dark day in American history. We’ve told her that her ability to make us smile, not to mention she’s made each member who attends lunch a handmade quilt, makes her a good reason to celebrate the day.

For the past couple of years, we’ve mailed the Maintenance Guy at the bowling alley a birthday card. After all, the seniors have been bowling there for 8 years now and they’re treated like family, not customers. Maintenance Guy has the kind of personality that you wait to see which way the wind is blowing before you speak, unless you like having your head handed to you during one of his off days. He is tolerant of the seniors but finds me, the junior member of the group, his target for terror. It’s like being in 3rd grade again and having pigtails that he likes to pull. In fact one summer, as I approached the line to bowl while sporting a ponytail, he actually snuck up behind me and tugged on it. If I didn’t have good reflexes, he would’ve been the proud possessor of three balls as I was at the point of my swing where the ball goes back before being launched.

I tolerate this guy only because there is the occasional, if small, spark of human decency that comes out at the oddest times. Sometimes I think it’s sparked by jealously, because the group loves the Asst. Manager. Literally. They almost hug him to death each week as he holds the door open for them. On days hugs are abounding, Maintenance Guy seems kinder, as if wanting the same, but that razor sharp tongue keeps everyone at arm’s length.

Yesterday, we turned the tables on him.

We called during our weekly lunch and sang Happy Birthday to him. When I got back on the line he was speechless. Oh, it was only momentary and followed with an appreciative, “Oh shit. You people are nuts.” This guy, who has an answer for everything, proceeded to stumbled all over himself for the next couple of minutes. We sang to Ruthella next. We may have sounded better the second time, but I think somehow the first chorus was more heartfelt because we knew we'd touched the heart of a man we were sure didn’t possess one. I do wonder what he’ll do to us on Friday when we come to bowl, but I’m guessing we might actually see a smile before he starts to verbally berate me.

The second unusual marking of 9/11 came from a friend concerning e-mailing a marine. I don’t know what Marine, just one whose commander is sick and tired of believing Americans want the Iraq deal over and done with because they’re sick and tired of hearing about it. I’m pretty sure the Marines are sick of it too, but they’re obligated to stay. The request was simple: e-mail an upbeat thought, even if it’s just the word THANKS, so every member in that Commander’s outfit receives a real message from an actual every day American. I’m about as everyday as they get and we all know how I like to write.

So I did. I hope it helped. If nothing else, it came from my heart.

Something simple for a person I know and one I don’t. Doesn’t matter. We’re all Americans right?

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