Though distant, attacks rekindle desire to help

I have struggled for the past two weeks with an overwhelming sense of uselessness.

Oh sure, there have been other emotions in reaction to the events of Sept. 11.

I’m tired of hearing those events called “”tragedies.”” That word seems somehow inadequate, although I can’t imagine a word that better describes it all.

I could rattle them off, from disbelief to outrage and, naturally, grief. The last has been largely repressed, because I know that if I allow myself to sink into sadness, I’ll be paralyzed.

Not that I can do anything to help anyway.

I’m so in debt that I can’t give money as freely as I’d like. Five dollars in a fireman’s boot is a nice gesture, but such tokens do nothing to calm my restlessness or allay my feeling of impotence.

My time is also severely limited. I have a full load of classes. I work 20 hours per week. I have commitments at the Guardian and at KSDT.

Despite this, I have flirted with the idea of packing up my car, filling up my gas tank and driving east for three days. I can see myself knee-deep in pieces of what once were impressive skyscrapers. I am covered in ash. I don’t miss school or work or my baby sister. Committed, purposeful, useful, I am satisfied.

I know perfectly well that I can’t drop everything and charge blindly into the wreckage, asking to be put to use. There are others, though, who can do exactly that. Libby, a friend who lives in Boston, told me about two of her classmates who went to New York.

Both students only had one class that day, which they opted to skip. They took a bus to lower Manhattan and dedicated the entire day helping to clean up the “”enormous mess.””

“”What they told me gave me goose bumps,”” Libby said. “”They were let in through a back door, so to speak, and rode through the streets in the back of an Army van. Apparently, thousands of people stood on the street side waiting to help as well. Thousands. A lot of them had to wait all day and after waiting all day, many were turned away because there was too much help. But they were all still cheering on the volunteers and shouting out love for America, waving flags, singing, etcetera.””

Such a story is inspiring. Maybe I should take a lesson from those people in New York who, unable to physically assist, offered instead their love and support and accepted that this is what they could do.

But I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines. In case you couldn’t guess from the schedule I recounted above, I’m high energy. I have to be busy.

At some point — and here I’m sure I’m going to sound fatuous and self-important, if I haven’t already — I realized that I have been blessed by circumstance.

I come from a great family who has given me gifts of good genes and a healthy attitude. They were sufficiently well-off to live in neighborhoods with fine schools, to feed me good food and give me interesting books to read. I am intelligent and inquisitive; I learn things quickly.

Obviously I have myriad weaknesses, and I’m well aware of them. Just ask me about my ex-boyfriends. But it is much more important to be aware of our strengths, to know what we’re good at, so that we can do those things for the betterment of ourselves and our loved ones.

I don’t know when this started. I don’t know when I started feeling like a part of the Collective, obligated to give of myself to help my fellow man. It’s entirely possible that all this high-toned rhetoric is nothing more than a bid at renown and respect. I like to think I have purer motivations, of course, but there are some who claim altruism is an illusion, and they may be right.

Whatever the reason, I have known for some time that I want to do more than live placidly in my ivory tower. Once, I wanted to do exactly that: work in academia as a professor in literature. While I don’t detract from the importance of the amazing teachers and researchers we have here at UCSD, and indeed at universities all over the world, I know now that’s not the path for me. I couldn’t be satisfied in that role, I think.

This led me to decide to join the Peace Corps after graduation. I guess I’ll be sent to some developing country, providing whatever service I’m able. It will be scary. My mother, I think, hasn’t realized yet that I’m serious. Neither of us will handle separation well. But it’s worth it to be cut off for a time from everything that is comfortable and safe.

And after that — who knows?

It’s all well and good to look forward to graduation, but that doesn’t help the way I feel now.

All of this has come to a head lately because of acts that have little direct effect on my life other than to force me to restructure the page of a college newspaper. But I am connected to it nonetheless, if only by my own reflections.

But here I am at this particularly illustrious ivory tower, with the chance to at least develop something that could be put to use. And so I am enrolled in independent study of Arabic this quarter, prompted by the FBI’s announcement that they are sorely understaffed in fluent speakers of that language.

And I can write for the Guardian. The pen is mightier than the sword, right? I don’t think I believe that yet.

I do believe, however, in the power that those people in New York had, encouraging those luckier than they; I’m doing my best to smile and cheer whenever possible. It gives me something to do.

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