It was exactly the same kind of day. A Tuesday, a cloudless morning with pure blue above, the sunlight blinding. I don't remember what my office looked like then, but I remember Steve the copyeditor at my door, being the first person to tell me to go on the news sites. But I couldn't, becaue WaPo and NYT sites crashed. I also remember going home early and spending the afternoon on the couch staring at the TV. That's about it.
Perhaps this is the closest many people to smelling the odor of death. For me, it was a distant third to 1) Tiananmen Square in 1989, and 2) Los Angeles riot in 1992 (although it was over when I arrived in LA). Psychologically, these two incidents were a lot scarier and intimate than 9/11 to me. By comparison, 9/11 seemed a lot less real or tangible than those two.
People died. Then many times more people died and continued to die 11 years later as a consquence. What's it all for and about? Maybe there is no logic or reason. Maybe a big reason is revenge, tracing its way back to a hundred years past or more. A little while ago I read an article by the movie critic Jim Emerson in which he discussed his own lack of lust for revenge.
As a Chinese person who grew up hearing the folklore and watching the movies, I am among the hotblooded people who do have a lust for revenge. "You killed my father/brother/wife/children. Now prepare to die." The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most popular western classics among Chinese readers. We Chinese fantasize revenge without guilt, perhaps because we do not have the modern social machinery to exact this revenge for us, i.e., the court, police, army, and government. Still, collectively carried-out revenge is still revenge, minus some of the blood lust and personal satisfaction in the process.
Emerson ponders why audience generally appear to have a lust for revenge, at least in theaters. I had worked that out long ago. Revenge is a way to restore a sense of order in this chaotic world. Although people kill each other all the time for no good reason or logic or justice, the dream of retribution provides a soothing balm on the unbearable reality. The moment a clear and unambiguous revenge is enacted. In the movies, the hero either completes his revenge in the climactic final battle (mostly Chinese movies) or forgives the villain and let him live after defeating and humiliating him (usually movies from the west). The latter is really more about the self-actualization and coming of age than about revenge. We channel our relief through the hero as he walks into sunset.
Well, things don't work out that way in reality, do they? The people who enact revenge get it if they are lucky, but they also fail and die just as often. They don't all safely walk away. Collatoral damage and deaths mount while the avenging party kills the culprit who have anything to do with this lust for revenge. So for those innocents who were wronged in the process for no reason at all, are they due some revenge of their own? Do they star in their own revenge movies? The answer is no, because there is no order or logic or justice in the real world. So revenge is only a dream to give meaning to the sound and fury.
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