Kathleen Parker
You can almost hear the planes now, see the flags everywhere unpacked once again, marching bands and parades of soldiers, officials solemnly speaking, gun salutes, studied silence and prayers. Television and radio shows have been pretaped and packaged, collages created, vignettes ordered and background music refined. It's almost Sept. 11 and it's SHOW TIME! Among alien lifetime experiences, surely the one about to occur shore-to-shore, beam-to-beam, caps the top. The notion of watching "It" all rerun again, participating in mass memorials, playing one's part in the real-time drama of national sorrow is enough to send certain wretches to the woods. Anybody out there? For people in the media, the sound and flurry began a few weeks ago as assignments trickled in and interviews were arranged. Imagine thousands of columnists, 1,600 daily newspapers and dozens of network and cable shows all packaging the same story for the same instant. Then thousands of cities and towns, schools and churches hauling out their best pomp for the memorial to beat all memorials. A press package arrives from the Tampa Bay Patriots, one of whom is my proudly patriotic, may I say, adorably eccentric mother, announcing "Tampa Remembers 9-11." Every Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. for the past year, Tampa residents have lined the Bayshore Boulevard and waved flags as passersby flashed their lights and blew their horns. This Sept. 11, thousands are expected to fill the 4.5 mile sidewalk. Same drill, but with well-ordered ceremony, including military flyovers and one-year-to-the-minute "Moments of Remembrance." Is this riveting? Or what? Watch for it on the networks. Meanwhile, President Bush has issued a White House news release asking everyone to recognize Patriot's Day 2002 -to display a flag at half-mast, to hold candlelight vigils and to observe a moment of silence beginning at 8:46 a.m. EDT. Clearly this huge day so freighted with meaning cannot be ignored. Something has to be said, done, demonstrated. It's our nature to act out our emotions, and this one engulfed us all a year ago. Where else to put all that energy but in a ritual that invites and permits community. But. There's a reluctant part of me -and I hope in millions of others -that wishes for a less spectacular, more circumspect review of events and meanings. A purposeful decision perhaps to not watch TV, to not line the sidewalks and participate in the spectacle, to not listen to gab radio all day. But instead to read Dinesh D'Souza's book, "What's So Great About America," (or James Joyce's "Ulysses") or walk the dog longer than usual, or visit a shut-in with conversation and flowers. The key to this sense was eloquently summarized by Sue Mladenik, wife of one of the passengers on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the first tower. In a recent story about her, Mladenik talked of her first year since her husband's death -that it took her five days to leave the bedroom, 10 months to wash the sheets they'd slept on together. Most poignantly, she spoke of her loss of privacy, of having to build a six-foot fence around her home to keep out reporters, neighbors and well-meaning others, including a woman she didn't know who clung to her when she went to the post office to mail a package. "I don't need to cry with strangers," said Mladenik. Which is, I think, the thrust of these misgivings. Yes, we should honor the dead and the heroic. We should square our shoulders and think seriously about where we need to go next. But we should not, must not, pray not turn this national moment into an exhibition of mourning, a group hug among the weak-chinned and the thin-skinned. We have a tendency to worship our symptoms in this country, to fetishize our neuroses. We show our scabs on television, weep for strangers holding cameras, and then turn our chairs to watch others deconstruct. Narcissism and voyeurism infuse even our most selfless acts. This is what the woods wretches ponder. And what we must resist as we do whatever we do, individually or as communities, on Wednesday. Flags are nice; silence is best. The password is dignity.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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