Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.
Ah, yes. Lyrics from the the classic old tune by Stealers Wheel. I used to sing it out loud during especially frustrating moments at various jobs through life. And then these same words washed over me the other night watching current political news the other night. I’m sure I’ve lost some of you right after the last sentence. Politics is already dominating the daily news fourteen months in advance of the next Presidential election.
And, I generally avoid the major elements of political discourse here. But honest writers understand their perceptions of the world enter into any creation, including the freak show that modern American elections have become. Fictional character interactions are sometimes less entertaining than the actual words emanating from today’s politicians.
However, today is an opportunity to change the focal points. After all, today is September 11 and most of us will take at least a little time to reflect and remember the same day from 2001. It may be more important than ever before to maintain the memory of those lost during that horrifying day. And not merely to honor those who fell, but to recall how unified we all were after the literal dust settled at ground zero.
I had never been to New York City before, however, this summer I was able to travel there twice. The first trip was a few days to try and absorb the scale and scope of the amazing city that never sleeps. My wife mentioned the 9/11 Memorial and museum, but I shook off the suggestion like an unhappy pitcher atop the mound in a key baseball game. I didn’t think I was ready to review the devastation of that day. Fate would return us back a month later and this time I thought it important to try to go.
Improperly dressed for the rainy weather, we stood outside the museum getting cold and wet, waiting for our chance to get inside. A complete stranger witnessed my miserably drenched visage and he pushed his umbrella in my direction to give me a brief respite from the downpour. I must have appeared surprised, and he merely smiled and said, “It looked like you could use it more than me.”
A random act of kindness I very much appreciated just before we moved inside. The remnants of the twin towers offered shelter from the storm, while preserving the powerful memories of the tragedy. I held up fairly well moving from piece to piece, haunting photos, and reminders of what happened there. At least until I stood before the hull of a destroyed NYFD fire truck. “Ladder 3” was painted across what was left of the vehicle after the buildings fell. At that point, it was if a piece of those buildings emotionally fell on me. It hit me that none of the heroes from that fire truck survived the day. And a former Marine cried among strangers, unable to take my eyes away from the truck.
It was sad and amazing all at the same time.
The important visit reminded how sad and amazing the entirety of our country was in the days that followed. There was no extreme political left or political right, or blue or red states it was just us. Us united as one, to rebuild, to restore and, yes to revenge as well.
Those random acts of kindness and the feeling of unity was the reaction to sadness of those attacks against us. And I would hate to think another massive tragedy is what it would take to bring us back to the middle again, but it does feel like.
Most of us are the middle most days. If we consider the vast majority of issues we agree on, such as education, jobs, safety, wellness, freedom, roads, travel, national parks — all things we tend to enjoy together. Clean air should be one we agree on, but not always. Laws we like, but it seems like some reform there could be helpful to reduce some of the swelling prison population. It is a world record we shouldn’t have. The extreme elements of society then appear to be focused on just a handful of issues – women’s health/right to choose, the death penalty, guns and the definition of religious freedom (i.e., freedom of religion or freedom from religion).
The great political wedge, focused intently on by left and right media is what makes it tough to turn on the radio or television. Fear sells. It sells tickets, books, commercials and fear flies off the charts among political machinations. Fear of losing jobs, rights, retirement funding — it is all about what the opposite “side” will take away from you. Fear is for sale in the U.S. of A. and business is frighteningly good.
For those of us who silently suffer in the middle, we know better. We know the differences can go away in a moment. We know we all share more in common than the handful of divisive issues that are constantly thrown in our face. We know it is possible to both support the vast majority of amazing police officers and be against acts of police violence. History tells us we’re a nation of immigrants and there are reasonable solutions to help people find a legal path to join us.
Common sense should replace fear in the media and the political stage. That’s my crazy dream. No grand speeches here, folks can either be kind or cruel. Understanding or indifferent. I kind of like the dude with the umbrella that day in the rain myself. I’m aiming to be more like him. I’m happily stuck in the political middle with most of you. I’d much rather us find united once again without an attack on our soil, but until that day then:
Clowns to the left, jokers to right, here I am…