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9/11 Essay -I Say Nothing

Updated on September 12, 2011

I first wrote this essay/poem on Sept 24, 2001 in an email to Barbara Carlson, talk-show host in Minneapolis who posed the question as to why she was getting so few calls from people against a military response to 9/11. Although I was a frequent caller to the Barbara Carlson show and spoke often of my political views that had been shaped by having a husband in Vietnam, I never called after 9/11. Today, however, September 11, 2011, I did find a copy of this email that I had written in response to Barbara Carlson's question as to why many of her radio audience had stopped calling after 9/11 and why all her call-ins had taken on more of a one-note tone. I hesitate, even ten years later, for reasons I'm not sure of, to post this piece, but it reflects a view of many who remained silent immediately following 9/11 and why they did so.


I Say Nothing
by Billie Kelpin Pagliolo Olmon

You ask me why I'm afraid to speak,
to tell you what I really feel.
I'll tell you why.

I am the minority,
and if I should say how I feel,
they'll call me unpatriotic.
My father served in World War II;
My father-in-law landed on the beaches of Normandy;
and my husband served in Viet Nam.
Yet, they'll call me unpatriotic.

They'll call me unpatriotic
because I can't understand.
I can't understand how of the death
of so many innocent lives
causes flags of color to wave.

I don't understand why my friends send me e-mails with
beautiful pictures -
an eagle whose tear
drops before my eyes
while a digital "God Bless America"
plays in the background.
If I were to suggest we fly
a black flag of mourning instead,
they'll call it capitulation,
And I don't understand --
so I say nothing.

I don't tell them I wish I could fly
the flags of all the nations
that have laid flowers at our embassies,
or suggest to them, that perhaps,
we all could fly a flag of peace.

But I don't say that because they'll say I'm some kind of "looney liberal"
or revert to the term "communist" because they know so little of the world.

I don't mention that, during this time,
I can't help but think also of
the thousands of civilians who were killed in the Persian Gulf War
or in any of our wars, but
I say nothing because they'll think that means my heart aches less
for the delicate lives lost in
the World Trade Center

I don't tell them I found it strange
last Tuesday
to wear red, white, and blue
instead of black.
I won't say a word,
but I'll wear black every Tuesday,
until the pain of 9/11 evaporates from my soul.

I won't tell them that I don't understand the woman in the SUV
alongside of me
who has a rosary glistening delicately
as it hangs on her rear view mirror -
while she displays a sticker on her back bumper that says, "Nuke 'Em"
I will only look at her with open mouth as I pass
because to do more
would be to create further hatred.

They'll never know that I, whom they label "liberal"
with mockery in their voice,
stood by my fireplace last week, as it raged in flame,
and held my hand close
and held it there long
to get a tiny glimpse of the terror
the innocent felt on that horrid day.
But I'll say nothing
because they wouldn't understand .

I'll say nothing because my opinion
gives me a uniform that puts me on
the receiving side of the vitriolic rhetoric
by a raging media in a war it can't give up.

Most of all I'll say nothing
because it would crush my soul
for others to think that I don't love, with all my heart,
this extraordinary place where I was born
or the liberty it has brought to my life.
It would destroy me to think that they assume
I would not stand with them and die if I have to
to defend that liberty

I'll say nothing because, in a way, I have faith--
faith that perhaps our government will be wiser
than all the people craving for instant drive-up service
at the fast-food restaurant of revenge.

I'll say nothing because I live in a society
where the majority rules, and I can yield to that.

But in my heart, I'll wave the flag of humankind
and continue to feel I am a citizen of the world.
And I'll walk among those who hate us
and assume they don't
because I can't live any other way.

And I'll believe that, hard-wired in humanity,
is the basic instinct of survival
that always triumphs over destruction;
And that those on this unique and wondrous planet
who know in their hearts that we have a mandate
from the universe to live on in order
to solve the mystery of our own existence,
will prevail.

But for now, I'll say nothing.


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