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Oct./Nov. '02 Articles:
Privatize Public
Editorial: Fishing Hurts
The Muddlemarch: 1
The Muddlemarch: 2
Over-Priced Musings
Searching for a
Species Identity
Invisible Casualties
• Breaking the Silence
(music reviews)

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Adam Finley
Breaks the Silence

by Adam Finley
art/Marty Kelley

Like most struggling writers, I've found myself facing a dearth of writing opportunities, save for the occasional freelance gig.

Therefore, I've been forced to make funds via normal jobs, such as my current temporary placement at the Department of Transportation. Someone has to take those identification photos, and apparently I'm just the right man to do it and have been for three months.

On average I take about three hundred pictures a day, and every single person refers to their picture as a "mug shot" in preparation for their receipt of the Most Unoriginal Statement Ever Made Award. But this isn't about that.

Nor is it about the fact that the verification process, in which I ask unprepared citizens to say their address and date of birth out loud, will actually cause an inordinate amount of people to freeze in their tracks as if I just asked them to recite the Bible in its entirety, and in the original Hebrew.

This is about what happened on September 11, 2002. Everyone was thinking about this day as it loomed closer, and I was no different. However, I told more than one person that I was going to shut out all media on that day. I wasn't going to pick up any periodicals, watch any television, or even go online. I really didn't need a full day of specialty programs peppered with ads for those new Eggo Waffles with jelly inside them.

At approximately the time the first plane hit one year earlier, one of the Department of Motor Vehicles supervisors came out and announced to everyone in the building that we would all observe a moment of silence as a sign of respect and remembrance.

And that's all I'm going to say about the anniversary of September 11th.

I still have more to say about that moment of silence, though, and the whole idea behind using it as a method of respect. If I were walking down the street and a friend said, "Let's go to church and pray," I could easily turn him away based on the fact that I'm not religious. If I receive a call from someone asking to help him knit a gigantic commemorative sweater, I could turn him down without any guilt whatsoever because that's a really stupid idea. However, when I'm in a public place and someone announces unexpectedly that everyone will observe a moment of silence, I'm forced to comply, whether it's my own personal choice of remembrance or not.

I've always protested things in my own quiet and unassuming way. When I grow tired of large marketable breasts on television I simply turn it off and crack open a book, rather than launch a letter writing campaign. I fight lookism by not purchasing fashion magazines, and I do likewise for any corporation who puts profits ahead of the well being of their underage foreign workforce. This seems to work just fine most of the time, but I can't protest a moment of silence with silence.

I think the appeal of the moment of silence is that it's not exactly a prayer, though one could certainly pray during it. It's a kind of all-encompassing method that doesn't really alienate anybody, except for those of us who are maniacally independent and wish to reflect in our own way without being forced into some collective ten second memorial service with a few hundred strangers who can't sign their own name, god knows why we let them drive cars.

So what am I, some kind of jerk? Do I not appreciate the magnitude of what transpired one year ago? Obviously, I do, but whatever happened to individual reflection? Was the supervisor, taking it upon herself to designating a moment of silence, any different than me standing up and announcing, "I would like everyone in the room to ponder the impact of what happened one year ago in their own heads. You can do this silently, or while conversing with other people."

I've been shanghaied into moments of silence before, and I can honestly say that I never actually think about the person, place, or event I'm supposed to be thinking hard upon. I glance about my immediate area, maybe examine a phone or paper clip more closely than I normally would, and then begin to wonder if someone is going to speak up and free me from this awkward moment so I can go on thinking about the world, its history, and its unforeseeable future in a normal fashion.

To me, designating a moment of silence is no different than asking everyone in a room to take their shoes off and hold them above their heads for ten minutes in order to generate cancer awareness. There's really no point in asking everyone to do something that goes against what they would normally do, nor should the obvious weight of a single event need to be crunched into a ten second time limit. Pondering a tragic event or the death of a loved one isn't done while waiting in line to switch your license over from Utah to Iowa, it's done whenever your mind happens to skim across it while firing off the trillions of other thoughts it has whirling away inside it. I'll trade one moment of forced silence for the infinite number of times I've been given pause by tragedies both personal and worldwide.

And besides, that nearsighted elderly lady on crutches needed her license right away.

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