Commentary: Having a Baby in Post 9/11 America
By Ian Fleischer
Buffalo, NY – In the media I have been hearing about an impending baby boom this summer. It's been interesting for me to think of myself as a participant in this fad.
I'll be a new father in the next few weeks, and this will be our first child. Our lives are about to change beyond repair. That's not to say the baby will damage us in any way of course, but literally, things will never be the same. My wife and I will no longer be, simply, a pair.
People say once you have your own child, it's as if your heart has begun to live and travel outside your body. Is that a good thing? I'm not sure I want my heart walking these streets after dark with or without me. For that matter, considering the state of affairs everywhere, I have moments of grave misgivings about bringing a new life into the world.
The threats facing my child are dizzying. When I consider the hate blowing in all corners of the world nowadays, it feels like the ground is splitting open. These are my worst moments. In a radio interview, a man said that our post 9/11 world is more back to normal. It's been the sense of inevitable peace in the last 50 years that is abnormal and, seemingly, unreasonable, he said. I want to scream when I hear things like that.
So much of what I've taken for granted has silently crumbled. There is a lot that has noisily crumbled, but it's the silent things that are most unnerving: a sense of safety: a sense that no matter how bad things can get, human reason will prevail; a sense that people have some sense to even come to.
Silently, over the last 10 months, nature - once my refuge in the forests and mountains and lakes and streams - has taken on a more sinister tone. Beauty has become more painful. A brilliant orange sunset over the Niagara River is coupled with such sadness and lost illusion. I now have a truer and more honest vision of the world I live in. It is one suffused with suffering. It's embarrassing to remember how I viewed the world and my place in it before 9/11.
Americans can be so isolated and above the fray. It was easy to look at troubled peoples around the world with indecent superiority when I felt so far removed from any of their pain. It's easy to think of yourself as a kind human being when you're watching from a safe distance. Now that I have even the slightest taste of their pain, I'm no longer sure of my motives, my impulses, or my own good will toward all humanity.
It's shameful how I once viewed the world's problems as unconnected to my own life. I don't know if it's just since September 11th, or if it's that now my heart is soon to be out there in the wider world, but my vision seems to be clearing. Some things are obvious to me now. None of us can afford to sit apart and watch others in panic and pain.
My words here are not meant to be gloomy or discouraging. They are meant to reflect what I imagine many a father-to-be thinks about when his baby is soon to be born. And they are meant to help me think through the volley of fear and joy, despair and hope that ricochet in my mind as my child gets closer to joining my wife and me in this new, more uncertain, drastically altered landscape.
In the face of our crazy world, what is more hopeful than new life? What is more scary than to have your heart out there among the madness? But what is more meaningful, too?
Ian Fleischer is a Buffalo public school teacher and a writer.