Anyone who went to the conservatory I did likely has emotional scars about washing hands in the bathrooms. With no paper towels and miserably weak hand dryers, one’s only options were to spend twenty minutes enduring the whir of the machine’s forced, lukewarm air, or mop up on the back of one’s pants and get on with the day.
This weekend I gave my hands a formidable scrubbing in a beach bathhouse, and was dismayed to find the older cousin of the conservatory hand dryers awaiting me next to the sinks. I was in a hurry – someone was waiting for me outside. I was wearing shorts that would show the water marks. The bathroom smelled.
I think I ultimately ended up running my hands through my unkempt hair a few times (still sporting bedhead, I didn’t have much to lose). But that’s not the point, or at least it is not the point I’ve been thinking about since I left the public bathroom and continued my morning walk down the beach. In ways infinitely more serious than wet hands, we all get stuck sometimes. We can’t control everything. I’m not even sure we can control anything.
The tenth anniversary of one of the most formative events in the history of our nation will occur this weekend, September 11, 2011. The media will spin this coverage out endlessly, no doubt in ways both classy and tasteless. I will be pleasantly surprised if anyone says anything new, or tells me anything I didn’t already know.
I’ll also be surprised and impressed if anyone alludes to the terrible truth of that day, the terrible truth of life: that almost everything, if not everything, is out of our control. We have a truly wonderful society that allows us to get what we want, in which we all collude to help each other appear the masters of our domain. But when someone decides they want to violate the code of society, that code in which we all play nice and pretend that we are safe, then they will most likely succeed in violating it. They will hurt us. Once in a while we will be able to protect ourselves.
Alas, most of it is out of our control. We decide what to prepare for and what not to worry about. I could carry a handkerchief to keep from being without a hand towel, I could carry a gas mask to protect myself from terrified imaginings. But then it’s not a hanky you need, it’s not gas you need protection from.
So I lock my doors and roll up my car windows and say something if I see something. But I refuse to go overboard to convince myself I’m safe when I’m not. We are never safe. The best I can do is play by the rules, those wonderful rules of ‘We all take care of each other. We live like civilized people. We are good to each other.’ I try to put my faith in my community while staying ready for the next curveball, large or small, the next time I have to wipe my hands on my pants.