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The Devolution Will Be Televised

Eleven things to do the week of 9/11 that don't have to do with sitting in front of the television and watching the World Trade towers crumble again and again and again

By Corinne Asturias

AS THE WEEK OF Sept. 11 unfolds, much of America has found itself bracing for the worst. A repeat terrorist attack? A grim pronouncement from our president? An escalation of violence in the Middle East? Hell, no! Dread for the high-pitched media barrage, the inevitable, drawn-out, emotionally manipulative replay of the single most horrific moment they've experienced in our nation's history.

Would family members of someone killed in a car crash sit and watch a videotape of it over and over again? Would they replay the funeral, facial expression by facial expression? Put together a photo album of hospital scenes and emergency workers from the tragedy? Make a little song and logo to go with it, and repeat it for 24 hours straight? Would any psychologist suggest this as a healthy way of healing?

But, this is what much of America will subject itself to, over and over again, regardless of the fact that thousands of people reported suffering from depression after the events of September last year. A psychological study of 2,300 Americans released last month by the Triangle Research Institute found a direct correlation between post-traumatic stress disorder and time spent watching Sept. 11 coverage last year.

This promises to be a difficult enough day for America--and even in the weeks and months that follow. Here are 11 ways we've come up with to make the situation better, not worse.

1.) STAY AWAY FROM THE TV. If you're curious about what will be on the tube, or worried about what you'll be missing if you don't keep your eyes within the tractor beam of CNN, we'll tell you right now: about a hundred hours, from dawn till dusk, of reflections, heroes, analyses of how American has changed, "portraits of grief," anatomy of the collapse, replays of media coverage from last year--and if that's not tear-inducing enough, there's even a show on the babies of people who were killed. Not surprisingly, the National Mental Health Association has issued a warning to viewers to "cut back on TV time" or risk depression, irritability, apathy, fearfulness and a lot of other bad feelings.

Our feeling? Most of us remember 9/11 from the first time around and still feel quite horrible about it. But if you're among those who feel you can't get through the day without the glow of the blue bonfire, be your own best bartender/friend and know when to cut yourself off. We suggest one of the televised concerts, the Vienna Philharmonic Memorial Concert or VH1's Concert for New York City, featuring the Who, Bon Jovi, James Taylor, Paul McCartney (hey, the Goo Goo Dolls will be there, too!). By later in the week, it should be safe again, with Thursday's Friends episode, where Rachel is late, and a History Channel special called Modern Marvels, on New York City's Times Square.

2.) IF YOU'RE FEELING PROACTIVE, write a letter to your senator and elected official in the House of Representatives giving your opinion about further incursions into the Middle East. It's easy, and you can do it online from the League of Women Voters website at www.capwiz.com/lwv/dbq/officials/. If you live in California, your senators are Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. If you don't know who your representative in Congress is (if you're in the valley, it's either Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda or Zoe Lofgren), go to the League of Women Voters website, where you can punch in your zip code and/or address and get the information on how to write to them, phone them or email them on the spot.

Click on the box "Compose your own message." Keep it brief and respectful. But if you think the Democratic Party leadership has rolled over like an overweight golden retriever, you can say so. If you think our president is off-base, you can say so, too. But stick to the main issue. And be sure to mention that you won't be able to vote for them ever again if they don't support your views.

3.) PLAN A TRIP. If you haven't flown on an airplane since 9/11, it's time to go. You probably already know that the airlines are practically giving flights away. If you've been avoiding flight out of fear, you must prove to the world (and yourself) that you are not going to spend your life staying home or driving to vacation destinations, which statistically is more dangerous, anyway. Not seeing the world is no way to save it.

4.) IF YOU WANT TO make a financial contribution, do it to a reputable charity that is distributing the money to the victims' families. The website for the watchdog group American Institute for Philanthropy is a good place to start: www.charitywatch.org. Be aware that some of the funds raised for victims of 9/11 are really big, and others could use some help.

According to an article in USA Today, of the 3,400 people killed in the attacks, the families of the 403 firefighters and police and ambulance crew members have gotten in excess of a million dollars each, plus annual city salaries for life and federal payments of $250,000 each. On the other hand, the average sum going to the injured and to families of others who died in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania was about $146,000.

5.) IF YOU LIKE GROUP HUG, big ritual, comfort-in-a-crowd kind of things, go to one of the Sept. 11 events at places of worship or some of the outdoor venues. A well-attended gathering will be San Jose Remembers, a free show featuring the Greg Kihn Band and some special guests. Sept. 11 in Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park, 5-8:15pm, in downtown San Jose. The San Jose Chamber Orchestra and other choral groups will perform at Mission Santa Clara at 7:30pm. The San Francisco Symphony is putting on a free outdoor concert at Yerba Buena Gardens at 6pm.

6.) IF YOU LIVE ALONE and think the date is going to put you into a funk, but don't feel like a big gathering, you could invite a friend or family member over, or make plans to go to someone's house. Talk about how you feel differently in America since Sept. 11. Write in your journal, make a flower wreath around a candle, say a prayer, meditate, share a moment of silence or whatever feels right. Take care of yourself and others, and talk about what you hope for America for the future.

If loneliness isn't the problem, try a long, solitary walk by the beach or through the woods. Forget about what man has wrought and contemplate what nature provides. It's a good way to drain the mind and carve out a few hours of peace.

7.) IF, AS THE WEEK of War on Terror unfolds, you're feeling hawkish, rent a DVD or video of Black Hawk Down or Platoon or The Killing Fields, just as a reminder of how the most valiant-seeming of America's incursions into small Third World nations abroad have ended. You might also try Hamburger Hill (about a particular battle in Vietnam and directed by former war correspondent John Irvin) or Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers--about the struggle to keep Algeria a part of France. And if you need the keeping-it-all-in-perspective kind of inspiration, you could also rent Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series and watch at least one of the episodes. It's just been released on DVD (www.carlsagan.com/revamp/cosmosstore/dvd/dvd.html) and seems like a perfect antidote--in billions and billions of ways.

8.) IF YOUR KNOWLEDGE of the Middle East could use some expansion beyond the sound bites gleaned from CNN, pick up a copy of The Kingdom, a book about the house of Saud and the founding of Saudi Arabia; it's a good introduction to the roots of the contemporary Middle East. Even easier, go to Santa Clara University on Sept. 15, at 2pm in the Mayer Theatre, and listen to Islamic scholar Sheik Hamza Yusuf, who was summoned to the White House after the World Trade Center attack and has become an international authority on the real meaning of "jihad" as well as a popular leader within contemporary Islam.

This knowledgeable and articulate 43-year-old Muslim convert (and former California surfer who grew up in the '70s) is internationally renowned and draws standing-room-only crowds. After Sept. 11, he was among the first to condemn the terrorists as not only psychotics but also as violators of Islamic law.

9.) GO TO A MIDDLE EASTERN market or eat at an Afghan restaurant. These Americans are not the enemy. They were just as horrified--if not more so--to witness the atrocities perpetrated last September. Show your support and understanding during this time when they will be feeling vulnerable all over again.

10.) IF YOU HAVE A FLAG and want to fly it, just remember to properly retire it at day's end, unless it is going to be lighted for the night. Here's a touchier matter. If you've been flying a flag since last Sept. 11, or have one of those cheapo bumper stickers or little plastic flappers waving from the antenna, you might want to give some serious thought to retiring it after this week.

Our nation's stars and stripes have been used (and in some cases, abused) for a full year now, so much that it's come to symbolize a bunch of things for which it was never intended, the worst of which is "Buy our product--we're ALL-AMERICAN!" After this week, put Old Faithful away until Veterans Day (unless you feel compelled to celebrate Columbus Day). Let's return to the flag its dignity. No one will doubt your patriotism for doing so.

11.) IF YOU OR SOMEONE you know got into an emotional crisis last Sept. 11, and starts feeling the waves of anxiety and despair filling up the bottom of the boat this week, don't wait to see how bad it gets. Get in touch with a crisis hot line, which is staffed up with people on the phone lines to talk confidentially with anyone who needs it, for free, 24 hours a day. There's local help available at 408.279.8228 or 408.633.2482 or 408.885.6250. It's been a tough year, and it ain't over yet.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the September 12-18, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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