Down two blocks and over one, there is a house that has two special-needs kids. Every morning at 6:27am, a over-sized school bus with tinted windows roars up to their door and whisks them away. The driver must always be running late because he (or she I can’t see into the bus) punches the gas and leaves behind a huge cloud of exhaust that reeks of burned diesel fuel.
This morning, we were slightly late on the walk and we missed the bus, but not the fuel smell. As we rounded the corner, the lingering odor of the exhaust caught up in my lungs, throwing my otherwise peaceful walk in the cool, early-morning air into a fit of irritation.
After 9/11, many people here in Dayton expressed their angry and fear about the terrorist attacks. Many had never been to New York City and seen the twin towers up close so the connection to them wasn’t strong. They would mouth the words of patriotism and revenge as if written on a cue card. But there was no deep sadness in their voices, no tremble of loss in their souls. It wasn’t empathetic. Where there was no experience, you saw fear, anger and worry as a veneer in their eyes.
But for the few of us here who had experienced the towers first-hand, the feelings ran deeper than anger and fear. Where there was experience, you saw deep sadness that could only come from empathy; from knowing that none of us will ever again be able to stand small under the towering glass and steel that seemed to lift endlessly into the sky.
I read an email from a friend last night about the oil from the BP disaster coming ashore on the white sand beaches of the Florida panhandle. Her description of her backyard was about as beautiful as I had ever read and as gorgeous as I remember the last time I was there more than ten years ago. Almost immediately, the sights, sensations and smells of a Florida beach came rushing over me. And I felt overwhelmed with a sense of loss.
My head was still on the Florida beach when I stepped out to walk this morning. As I turned the corner at the end of the street two blocks down and one block over, the putrid, vile smell of exhaust jolted me out off the beach and into the reality of what Florida is about to become.
And I felt very sad, very helpless and very violated.
Forty-three days of apathy later, I understood why most of us aren’t connecting our lives to the true horrors of what is happening in the Gulf, even as we are assaulted with it 24/7 by cable news as we were with 9/11.