To My Baby Girl, On the Day After
Posted: Saturday, September 15, 2001
( Tim Wise ) I was not where I needed to be last night. Not physically, and not emotionally. My daughter is ten weeks old. And last night, and tonight as well, only her mother will be able to hold her, and kiss her goodnight, and hug her, and wipe up her spit.
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I am somewhere else.
Tonight I will call home, and speak to my wife, who gave birth to that precious baby girl amidst such hope and pain. And in the background, I will hear that baby’s cry: as if she knows something is terribly wrong. Because babies can feel things that the rest of us have learned to repress.
And yet when I finally call I find her laughing, consumed with a desire to do nothing more than reach out, reach out, reach out, and bat at the soft hanging stars and moons that hang from her mobile.
I sigh a deep sigh of relief. The air escaping my lungs, and signifying recognition that 10-week-old babies do not, in fact, understand mass death. They have only begun, indeed, to understand their own life.
It is their parents, it is we, who must impose upon their innocent, na´ve, and far preferable world, with the truth that one day mommy or daddy may leave for work and not come back.
It is the parents; it is we, who must impose upon their world, altering forever their smiling, drooling faces that you can only see through the bitter tears of your own disillusionment.
You cannot protect them. Cannot keep them young forever. Oh what I would give to be so young and na´ve, as to require my mommy or daddy to wipe my nose and speak to me about anything but mass death.
It is their parents; it is we, who have to tell them of their nation’s talk of massive retaliation, and hunting down those responsible for mass death. And inflicting upon them some more mass death, to convince still others--once and for all--that mass death really doesn’t pay. And that our collective national dick is bigger than theirs.
And while I never expected to speak to you of such things at such a tender age, you might as well know that it is always and forever about the length and circumference of one’s national phallus.
Size, it seems, does matter, whether for missiles, or tall buildings, or the airplanes that bring them down. Their shapes (and make a note of it now for future reference), are no coincidence.
So if Osama Bin Laden is the man of the hour, then Al Haig and Hank Kissinger and their students--who, as it turns out know a little somethin’ ‘bout mass death--are apt to make sure he knows how killing is really done. Because they are hung like horses.
Killers have tutors, see, and the classes are full. How many people can they kill? Can we kill? (Kill, Kill). "Kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out." That’s what the bumper sticker prophets say. But God has better things to do, I figure, than to sort through the tangled mess that is both the New York financial district and also the human condition at this late date.
I have been in those buildings, have you? I have dropped my quarter in the silver, shiny viewfinders that you could look through, and get a close up view of Greenwich Village, or the Empire State Building, or the Hudson River, or Fort Lee, New Jersey. If for some strange and largely inexplicable reason you felt the need to see Fort Lee, with the assistance of a 1000x magnification lens.
I have dropped my quarters in slots my daughter will never see, in buildings she will never enter, on observation decks that do not exist any longer, except in my mind. And I have listened as the timer counted down the time left before the viewfinder would fade to black.
And I can imagine looking thru the viewfinder, and wondering why that plane looks so damned close.
I can imagine looking uptown as the plane came closer, and closer, and seeing Harlem, and thinking, damn: I shoulda gone to Sylvia’s Soul Food. ‘Cause Harlem, far from being the bad part of town, was one of the safest places in New York yesterday. Even terrorists know which victims count the most in America.
America, if you want safety, you’d best get your ass to the ‘hood. Get your boogie shoes to 123rd street. Move immediately into the Robert Taylor Homes, or Cabrini Green, or the lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. Do not pass go, let alone Wall Street. For there you are like sitting ducks.
And now what baby girl? Will we shed the blood of innocent babies so much like you, to demonstrate to the world how precious your life is? You had best hope not baby girl. Because if so you will never be safe. Not now, and not when you are old enough to understand, and fear, and tremble, like I am right now.
We will be signing a death warrant. If not yours, perhaps that of some other baby girl or boy. Maybe one that was being born at 8:42 this morning, while others were dying in mass death.
‘Cause what goes around, most definitely goes around, and around, and around, and around.
And all the tough talk and swagger and muscle flexing and chest thumping and pontifications that the folks who did this are cowards, cannot conceal the fact that so far there are no brave souls in the mix yet.
There is nothing brave about committing mass murder to be sure. But neither is there bravery in adding to the body count. Neither is there bravery in Senator Hatch’s testosterone-soaked diatribe about "going after the bastards," or officials saying no options are being ruled out, including nuclear weapons.
What a lesson that would teach. Like stealing the stereo of the guy who took your car to prove how much we respect private property. And then your VCR is at risk, and his watch, and your jewelry. Jewelry you could pawn on E-bay on any other day, but not tonight. ‘Cause folks are too busy bidding on chunks of the 39th floor.
So welcome to the world, dear baby girl. And sleep well tonight. And remain young for as long as you can. For one day, not so far from this day, everything will change again. As it always has.
And rivers of blood will be added to rivers of blood, all of it red and flowing downhill as blood tends to do as it seeks its own level. And mountains of bodies higher than the towers brought down on this day will be stacked: In the name of God. In the name of money. In the name of security. In the name of revenge. In the names of people with names like Osama and George and Ariel or Allah or Jesus.
Or to satisfy our desire for real, real, reality TV. So much so, that eating rats will seem like a day at Disney.
And your alarm system will not protect you baby girl. ‘The Club’ will not protect you. The police cannot protect you. Missile defense sure as shit can’t protect you. Even I can’t protect you. And I love you more than anything or anyone in this world. So my inadequacy is profound indeed
I wish that love could protect you; not just mine but that of others. But I’m not sure how much of that is left. It is on markdown; on the sale rack; on clearance; but no buyers today.
Love is too expensive for some, even when on sale. Too costly in time, if not in money. ‘Cause although money can’t buy you love, enough money can buy lots of cruise missiles, and napalm, and mass death.
It really isn’t complicated, baby girl. Most important things aren’t. You’ll learn this. Or more to the point, you’ll learn it and then forget it, as age makes you add layers of complication to what once seemed obvious. And that complexity will be called brilliance by your culture: nuance, depth. But really it’s just mostly vapid bullshit. Sterility posing as wisdom.
In the end it comes down to just a few simple truths. And while I wish I had thought of them myself, the simple truth about these simple truths is that they’ve been said before, and better than I could, by James Baldwin, who did not write them for this purpose, though they strangely seem to fit.
First, that those who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast upon the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.
And secondly, that even in darkness, we must remember that there is a light somewhere. One discovers the light in darkness. That is what darkness is for. And what the light illuminates is danger, and what it demands is faith...I know that sometimes we fail, and that one often feels that one cannot start over again. And yet we must. The light, the light...one will perish without the light.
For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed. The earth is always shifting. The light is always changing. The sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born. And we are responsible to them, because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails. Lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. And the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us, and the light goes out.
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