I read recently that it was this week in 1974 that the Frenchman Philippe Petit stepped off the edge of the World Trade Center’s north tower and onto a wire he’d secretly strung across to the south tower. He spanned the void eight times between the towers for a total of 45 minutes, seemingly walking on air like an angel as crowds gathered to watch, nearly a quarter of a mile below him.
I remember this astonishing high-wire act, but the idea of actually being so high off the ground and so unprotected did anything but inspire me to think up high adventures of my own. Like most others, I was content to be in the crowd below as an observer.
I kind of suspect I don’t and never did have such kinds of bravery or bravado in me. I’m not a particularly aggressive kind of lad, although I do admit to wanting to reach inside the TV more than a few times these past several weeks and grab a few especially unctuous weasel politicians and scream at them. I confess to wanting to shake them by their lapels, too.
But that’s about as far as my sense of adventure or aggression goes. Or so I imagined, up until yesterday when I was stung by yellow jackets. Almost 24 hours later and my right hand is still swollen. Like most acts of violence, it all happened so quickly when the venomous devils from hell itself swarmed out of the otherwise good Earth to strafe me when all I was doing was pulling weeds from around an old heritage apple tree in the garden. As I fled the scene, I thought of some cops-and-robbers story where the backup guy in the squad car radios for help, screaming “Officer down, officer down!”
I was definitely hit multiple times in my hand. From previous experience, I know that I react to yellow jacket wounds, but for some reason–possibly wanting to finish a chore before the rains came–this time kept working away in the garden without rushing in to take some Benedryl. I paid the price later when the poison from these miniature rattlesnakes puffed up my aching hand.
Up till then I was simply angry with what had happened, that these most perfidious of hell’s angels had directed their hatred on me.
Trying to calm down, I pondered again the high-wire act between the Two Towers, themselves the very symbols of unprovoked attack and whose 10th anniversary looms just around the corner. Taking ourselves back in time to that awful day in September, the event still seems so clear to many as an act of pure Evil against innocent people just trying to make a living. Yes, we’ve all heard the rationale that the towers were representative of American economic power which somehow or other got translated into why so many people around the world despise us and just want to take us down. Others say it was an act of twisted religious fanaticism, nihilism, and a distorted reading of history. Where does the truth lie?
From the ruins of these skyscrapers, President Bush swore that those responsible would be hearing from us very soon. And now a decade later, that’s all we are still hearing, as we continue still fighting in Afghanistan and still losing and still taking so many lives. According to news reports, a number of the Special Forces men killed on the chopper that was shot down Saturday were members of Seal Team 6, the unit that killed Osama bin Laden.
When does the killing end or are we all caught up in the Orwellian nightmare of perpetual war for perpetual peace?
And did we fall for the lure of our lesser angels when we felt the thrill of revenge on those who had visited such carnage and horror on us? Did a steely sense of power creep over us as we applauded the terrible swift sword we swung at the Taliban and their protectors in far-away Afghanistan? As a collective, were we feeling more than a bit of the blood lust of power and vengeance, a high most of us will never feel again?
So what are we to make of the power of vengeance and revenge? Some say that if you set out on such a path, you should be prepared to dig two graves.
In my own very small way after being stung, I also “needed” some kind of revenge on the yellow jackets. But I also listened at first to my better angel who told me that I was only part of the natural world and that I had “invaded” their territory and should have expected that they would be justified in fighting back. The idea of good and bad was beginning to blur, with neither emerging as entirely white or black.
And so I listened. I heard the voice of reason tell me to pause and remember the first lesson of civilized life: Accept the ineluctable without tears.
But then my lesser angel screamed that I needed to act, to destroy the enemy. Before I knew it, I was plotting my revenge. Since I do not have access to modern military warplanes equipped with napalm and high explosives, I relied on a can of wasp/yellow jacket spray killer that allows one to stand off from the enemy and pinpoint a steam of liquid death into their midst. Something akin to a garden Drone attack.
So after dinner last night, my wife and I returned to the scene of the mugging, armed with spray cans and directed two lethal streams of deadly chemical warfare at the little bastards returning to their den of iniquity. Who ever thought that revenge was not sweet.
Now reading the morning news early in the day as the night slowly gives way to another opportunity to be astonished by the miracles of life, I feel a twinge of Buddhist-like guilt at taking so many lives the night before. As I have told children who are quick to squash a spider or trample a cricket, “If you can’t make such a creature, why do you need to destroy it.” It was a reminder of the beauty, yet frailty of life, for lack of a better word, and of the sometimes irrevocable consequences of our actions no matter how well intentioned.
What brought me back down to earth rather abruptly this morning, though, were the details now coming in about the shoot-down of the helicopter. A great sadness.
I then read this quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Mother Night: “There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too.”