Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
The inspired and energetic Jill Amstutz, 34, was born in Chesterton, Indiana, and today lives with her three charismatic dogs in Anderson, Indiana. She works in marketing and communications, but emphasizes her professional experience is less important than her “desire to grow and help others grow.” In fact, being in the “mental manipulation” business has only fueled her skepticism and inspired her to seek and question more intently. As she describes, “I am my own pet project, seeking to grow and learn at all times. I am an addict of self-help and all kinds of mental gymnastics, which attempt to stretch my mind and enhance my life with new and not-so-new concepts.”
Jill uses her art and her journal to aid in her exploration. She and her partner, Gymwould, are hoping to motivate the world to “think for freedom” and to “open its awareness.” She describes her partner as the mastermouth and she as the mastermind (learn more at www.GYMandGYL.com.). Jill was getting her oil changed at the car dealers the morning of Sept. 11. Her remarks, titled “Perceptions on Change and Freedom,” were written in early October.
It is a disturbing thing for me to realize that in the face of all the horror, the tragedy, the unthinkable loss and the massive uncertainty of the lives we once took for granted that I am actually somewhat looking forward to a change in our culture. My divulgence of that is even more disturbing to others.
I wish it did not take acts of violence and battles of belief to force a change in our thinking and our behaviors. I wish we as individuals could all be open, aware, empathic and tolerant. I wish we as a world could learn when to mind our own business, show respect for other cultures and accept and learn from all that is different instead of fearing and lashing out. But that is not the nature of humans who are taught to believe in right and wrong, us and them, black and white.
We Americans have ensconced ourselves in our culture. We watch TV, we gorge ourselves, we lounge and enjoy the fruits of a bountiful existence. And, most of the time we took it all for granted, still do to an extent. Our complacent American butts have been getting bigger and our minds softer as we inhaled the drug of denial … the denial that anything could happen to upset our glory or take our plenty and make it few.
Unfortunately, it usually takes some sort of drama or trauma to make the proverbial sleeping giant sit up and take notice. It takes an extreme measure to make the giant actually change.America’s alarm clock has gone off in a big way. The events of September 11 were nothing if not dramatic and traumatic. My fear is, however, that we are not awake enough, aware enough. I am afraid we still believe we can go back to “business as usual,” that we will catch and punish the “bad guys” and be able to once again fall into our slumber of denial.
The things I am seeing and the reactions I am hearing about are not the kinds of change I think we need to make. The call to faith and blind patriotism may lead to just another form of denial. Factions beget factions. Beliefs beget beliefs. Following anything and anyone blindly means there are things unseen, unperceived, ignored. Instead of a call to arms (although I suppose that is inevitable) what of a call to minds, to thoughts, to understanding?
As I said at the beginning of all of this, it may seem odd to some that in the face of all the suffering and fear I am looking forward to the change, that I think I have wanted a change for a long time. I don’t particularly care for “business as usual” or the kinds of shallow comfort we have so tentatively enjoyed for so long. I like to learn, to grow, to expand, to question, to understand … even if it’s not so comfortable sometimes.
We say we want freedom. We say we need to protect our freedom. But what does that really mean? Who defines that, decides what it means to be free? The culture? The media? The government? Or is the perception of freedom relative to the individual? I find that the only place I can really be free is in my mind amid the questions and possibilities. After all, is a person really free if s/he is constantly trying to conform to arbitrary rules and superficial controls? How free are we really if we are so bent on maintaining our cushy standards of comfort that we are willing to sacrifice our minds and enslave ourselves to anyone and anything that promises to make us feel safe, comfortable, attractive, desirable and protected from change?
If no one was right; if nothing was bad; if we all said, “Oh, that’s what you think, okay,” and tried to understand or even just said “whatever” and moved on, how different would life be? We are taught that to believe, to have opinions, to take a stand is strong. We believe that if we don’t take a stand, argue our point, or fight the fight, we will be perceived as wishy-washy and weak. But, what if we realized that openness and flexibility lead us to be stronger, while the confines of belief leave us brittle and limited. What if instead of “I believe” we said: “I wonder? I understand. I think. I perceive.” Is it possible? What if the Giant woke up and instead of stumbling into another fog learned to think?
I do not celebrate what has happened. But I will celebrate if it brings about some sort of cultural shift, awakens us to the opportunities we have long chosen to ignore and causes people to begin to question, explore, examine and perceive the possibilities that exist outside that which we believe.