This isn’t just another column. I don’t have an impassioned plea to make nor a staunch opinion to assert. I don’t have the facts to back me up, and I don’t have a fancy degree that tells you I know what I’m talking about. I’m not a member of any kind of organization, I don’t do any kind of community work, I’m not ethnic, I’m not a feminist, I’m not a history or psychology major, or even studying something that could remotely help me to comprehend what is going on.
All I know is this: that I can’t possibly be the only one who doesn’t understand what’s happening, and I feel this need to share what I think, in order to try to make some sense of it all.
On Sept. 11 I woke up to NPR, with ominous voices swirling around my head and my boyfriend saying, “I think something has happened.” Since then, I’ve cried at every mention of the World Trade Center crisis without really knowing why — just that it makes me feel terrible and weighed down in my soul.
But I’ve never felt like this before, I didn’t cry when I heard about the Oklahoma City bombing, the first WTC bombing or any other terrible act. I’ve never cared about Afghanistan, refugees, human rights activists or the United Nations. It’s not that I actively disdained these things, it’s just that it never affected me or any part of my life, so I never developed any kind of feelings about it all. But I wept all day Tuesday — wept, shaking and tired — and now I find myself immersed in all these issues I have never before encountered.
So what am I supposed to do with myself now? Now that I find myself caring about this, how am I supposed to act? Am I, as one of the “intellectual leaders of the country,” one of the well-bred, well-fed, well-off, well-educated young people of America, supposed to dedicate all of this bounty towards service to my country? Is it my duty to use these opportunities to make a difference?
Because despite all of the great American stories of the “individual making a difference,” the “your vote counts” and the “self-made man”, I simply can’t bring myself to believe it’s true. If it were true, then the protest movement of Vietnam would have made a difference. If it were true, then the sleep-out at Beinecke would have made a difference. If it were true, then all the counsel for restraint from all the advisors, professors and protesters would be making a difference, and the United States wouldn’t be rallying the world for war.
I’m also bitter after reading about how the United States funded the Afghan “freedom fighters” — the same Taliban government now — against the Russians from the early 1980s to the 1990s, and about how many of those very weapons and very fighters we will be seeing in Afghanistan today, fighting against us. Tell me you don’t feel bad. Or maybe a little bit repulsed.
If history could make a difference, let alone one person, then things like this simply wouldn’t happen — the United States would realize how backing rebels in some poor pseudo-Communist country always comes back to haunt us.
When I was trying my best to muddle my way through all these mixed feelings the other day, my boyfriend said, “You can do something. You can talk to people, you can tell them how you feel and find out information from them and tell them what you know.”
I guess this is what I’m trying to do, in writing this column. I’m trying to express myself fully, yet restrain myself to a mere 700 words. I know it won’t come out polished — or perhaps even readable — but it is honest. I hope people respond to it — that they see I’m trying my best to explain it to them and myself, and that it will make them think about what they want to say in return. Who knows? If you do, let me know.
Maybe someone with a fancy degree will e-mail me with all the right answers or maybe it’ll be the kid across the hall.
Caitlin Nelson is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.