The VigilanceVoice

Tuesday-- June 4, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 265
When A Man Wears A Skirt...
He Thinks Of Family Terrorism

Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, June 4--I walked down the street yesterday in a "dress."   I walked softly and carried a big stick.   Few people whistled at me. 
       New York is a menagerie of fashion.   I recently quelled my sister's concern about what to wear when she came to visit for a week in early May, remarking that she could walk down the streets naked and no one would notice.   People in this city give little attention to the "odd" and "bizarre" because most everything is extreme here.  It seems all ends of diversity meet in union in New York City so that anything that "stands out" in other places of the nation appears to fit within the normal flow of a city known for its extremes.  Put another way, "nothing surprises or shocks the citizens of New York City because they have seen it all many times before."
      My "dress" wasn't a dress at all.  It was my Scottish kilt I had made a number of years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland by that country's oldest kiltmaker.   It took a number of hours for the fitting and the selection of the proper accessories.  And, at the time, it cost a fortune.
      It is a handsome outfit, worthy of the time and money invested.   I wear it to certain important occasions--e.g. the marriage of my older daughter and yesterday I wore it to my granddaughter's International Day Celebration at her pre-school..   The children's parents and relatives were encouraged to dress up in their "native garb" and bring history and legacy to the class.   I was "volunteered" by my daughter to attend.
      I donned my kilt and all its accoutrements, including my walking stick, and headed out of the apartment for a mile walk through the heart of New York City.   I'm a big, tough-looking guy, six-foot four, 270 pounds, and a former U.S. combat Marine, so I have a demeanor that doesn't invite catcalls or scurrilous comments from bystanders trying to get laughs at my expense.
       The East Village, where my wife and I live, is packed with artists and actors, so one traveling along the crowded streets in any costume is given no more attention than a glance, for nothing here is uncommon.
       At my three-year-old granddaughter's pre-school, run by Catholic nuns, I was received with warm smiles as well as a few questioning grins. (I am forever hounded by the question:  "What do you wear under the kilt?")  I climbed the stairs and prepared my talk for the kids, trying to insure whatever I said would be something they could relate to and learn from.
       It is always fun talking to children.  It forces me to keep things simple--very simple.   I began with the history of the kilt and all its various elements.  Then I told them about the Ezekiel Stick--my walking stick.
      I had gotten it as a gift on Thursday, May 30, when I marched with the families up West Street, as part of the final tribute to the Ground Zero victims.   The history of the stick gleaned from a card attached to it was that God wanted two families to stop fighting, so he gave Ezekiel two sticks, one representing one family and its opinions, the other representing the other family's viewpoints.   Then, as the legend goes, God twisted the two sticks together as one.   His message was for Ezekiel to take the "unified stick" to his people and unite them as God had the two sticks.     From this legend comes the expression, "let's stick together."
        I related the story to the children, holding up the stick and telling the kids that sometimes people fight and argue, but that no matter what, if we try, we can become one.   We can "stick together."
       The kids were all sitting in a circle.   As I finished my story one little boy shot his arm up to ask a question.   "My family fights a lot," he erupted, and then realizing what he said, quickly cupped his mouth with his hand.
        I detected a momentary mask of Terror on the child's face--a sign that he wasn't supposed to talk about his "family's problems," or, it signaled his regret he had shared family "dirty laundry" with the group.
       I went on with my talk and finished by donning a variety of hats--from Scottish ones, to cowboy ones, to a New York Yankee hat.  Each time I put one on I asked the kids where they thought the "man in the kilt" was going.  When I wore the Scottish cap I was in Scotland.  When I donned the cowboy hat, I was on my way to Montana to see buffalo.   And, when I put on the New York Yankees hat, the kids cheered--I was coming to New York.
       Throughout the talk I kept glancing at the little boy who had  cupped his hand over his mouth.   I was reminded of a sense of Terror that ranks equal with a child as does the collapse of the World Trade Center to an adult
    It was the Terror of a child watching his or her family be destroyed through his or her parent's battling, threatening, Emotional and often Physical violence toward one another.   It was a thought I knew too well, and memories that had scarred me for life.
       My own childhood included much of that kind of Terror.  I grew up in fear of my step father's attacks on my mother, both verbal and physical.   As I grew older I would throw myself between them, taking the brunt of my father's vehemence to protect my mother when he got abusive.   On any given day, I waited for the family time bomb to go off, knowing that whatever seemed to be normal and loving at the moment would soon turn to ugliness and despair as arguments grew heated, usually laced by the poison of too much alcohol, or the sheer lack of love and consideration between the two.
       I had vowed as a child to raise a family free from "Family Terrorism."   I wanted my children to live in a home of "Loving Vigilance" rather than one of "Constant Terrorism."   Hopefully, I achieved that goal, with the support of my wife and a constant reflection back to my past and the urgency to avoid its repetition in my life.
      So I skewed my talk around the "stick together" concept.  If I did nothing with the kids except inject some hope in them that a family could reunite after it fought, I wanted to do that.    I wanted the child who was sitting in the circle thinking about how his family fought to realize that perhaps one day it might heal its wounds, might unite as the legend united the families through the Ezekiel Stick.
       I also knew the odds weren't good that would happen.  In the U.S. 2000 Census, of the 72 million children in this country under the age of 18, 32% live without the presence of their mother or father under the same roof.   In the 3-5 year age group comprising 11.8 million children,  a third of all kids in these formative years live in divided homes.  
       It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that prior to the divorce, there was much anger and emotional violence hurled between the parents.  Divorce is the final crumbling of the Family's World Trade Center.   I had suffered through that as a child--the sense of being "abandoned" by my father, of being alone, of having a step father I didn't trust, or respect and only feared because of his violence toward my mother.
      I grew up in a world of Family Terrorism.  I didn't have Parents of Vigilance, who sought to vow to protect me from Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.  They didn't struggle to teach me Courage, Conviction and Right Actions.  Had I followed their path, I would have raised children who hated me, who resented my lack of offering love, who saw me caring more about myself than for them.  They would never have been my friends, for I would never have known their Fears or Intimidations or Complacencies.   But I made it my business to be their closest friend, to share with them my Fears, my Intimidations, my Complacencies...and to illustrate my desire to overcome them with Courage, Conviction and Right Actions.   While I made many mistakes, none of the mistakes I made as a parent went without my admission to them, and an attempt to correct my flaws.
         My own childhood Terrorism taught me the negative lesson of not "wanting to be like my parents."   I hoped my children would "want to be like their parents"--that is, want to learn how to improve upon themselves when they fell down, and not ashamed to admit their mistakes, and to encourage a deep friendship with their children so that their children would feel safe telling them anything and know their parents were there to back them up Emotionally when the chips were down.
        The little boy who had said, "My family fights..." was telling me he was under the cloud of Family Terrorism.  I sensed he was viewing daily the destruction of his family, or at least its being ripping apart.  I felt a kinship to the young boy, and a sadness.  I hoped if nothing else he would learn "not to be like his parents."
       En route to the school I had been worried about what people might think or say about my kilt.  But my absurd egotistical thinking about what I looked like was smothered by the brutal reality that kids don't care what you look like, they care only what you do.   Some of the best-dressed parents in the world can be the worst Family Terrorists.   Rich or poor, Family Terrorism knows no social, class, ethnic or economic distinction.  When a parent is more concerned with his or her self than for the security of the family's Emotional well being--Family Terrorism rules. Vigilant parents would not demean one another in front of their children.  They wouldn't got to Emotional or Physical war at their children's expense.  But Parents of Complacency would.  They wouldn't think about their children, or the impact their brutality to each other had on their children.   They would even probably use their children as pawns in their game of Family Terrorism, by making a child take sides, by comments designed to impugn the other parent's reputation or authority.  
       I forgot about how I looked.  I remembered instead how I felt as a kid, and how desperate I was to live in a "Family of Love" rather than one riddled with the booby traps of constant "Family Terrorism."   My job was to carry the message of "Family Vigilance," not worry about how I dressed or what people thought of me.  I laughed at my own egotism.
      When I came home I scanned the day's headlines. They were full of venom, snapping at how the CIA knew about certain September 11th Terrorist suspects and didn't alert the FBI until just three weeks prior to the bombings.   They were Family Terrorism headlines, ripping and shredding at the fabric of our flaws, destroying our sense of security, attacking any sense of Vigilance by promoting the lack of it.
      One reading the headlines might assume the CIA was the Terrorist who allowed September 11th to happen.   Just a few weeks ago the headlines had dripped acid on the President's intentions, suggesting he was the Terrorist for not telling us, or warning us, or being concerned enough about us to pay attention to the reports he was getting.
       I wondered what a child of Family Terrorism thought when he overhead his parents talking, or heard the TV. blaring out news that even his government didn't "care about him."
      The frightened child in a kindergarten classroom, fearful of talking about the Terror of his family, is also fearful of his government.   Outside of school, his world is full of Terror.
      That seems like such a crime.  The Congressional Hearings underfoot bent on exposing what the government knew or should have known is a faddic communion.  It is the vain attempt once again to place fault at a family member's doorstep.   It creates yet deeper chasms between the trust of the child (American Citizens) and that of the parent (U.S. government).  It is "National Family Terrorism."
       All that will come from these accusations will be the bloodletting of people and places and things all standing on the same side.  Terrorism will not be the focus of the battle, self-incrimination will be its epicenter.  Millions of dollars will be spent to "lay blame" while Terrorism regroups and reinforces its goals of injecting more dissent in our country, more disunity, more disenfranchisement between family members.  The fundamental strategy of Terrorism's Fear, Intimidation and Complacency--"Divide and Conquer"--is at work.  The American Family is on its way to finding fault again with its self, perpetuating Terrorism within rather than standing up to it.
        What Congress should be asking is for is Congressional hearings on the "State of Vigilance" within each community.   Government should at this point recognize its impotency to establish a singular federal network capable of avoiding or alerting the population to the next attack.  
        While it may have some power to thwart a group trying to sneak in a "dirty nuclear bomb," it can't even begin to stop a group of suicide bombers from getting on buses or walking into crowded public areas and blowing themselves up.  If that was possible, no one in Israel would worry about going out of their houses.
        If our nation has learned any lesson from September 11th, it should be that Terrorism begins at home.   Its roots begin with the attitude each family has toward its children, and grows up from there.  All the Osama bin Laden's in the world attack only the most vulnerable, the most weak, the most Complacent.   They attack not our government, but our people, our families, our children.   They attack with Fear and Intimidation and Complacency.  Their victory is not blowing up buildings or people, but making the survivors of such events cower.
        We must not cower any more.
        The young boy in my granddaughter's pre-school class cowered.  He was afraid of Family Terrorism.   He didn't care much about Osama bin Laden, or the World Trade Center, he cared about dinner tonight, and whether his parents would shout at each other, or perhaps curse each other, or that violence might erupt and he would be driven deep into a cave of darkness, abandoned, left homeless and helpless to suffer until he was old enough to leave and either correct his own family by living a life of Family Vigilance, or, by repeating the same mistakes his parents taught him through their behavior
         Which was the most important issue for Congress?   Where were the headlines screaming:  "Let's End Family Terrorism!"   Where were the OpEds promoting the Ezekiel Stick rather than the whipping post?  
          If Congress is a sum of the representation of the people, then it is the sum of the families that comprise those people.   People don't just appear.  They come from families.  A Congressman or Congresswoman is really a Family Congressperson, representing a portion of America's 100 million households.   So where is the Congressional effort to investigate Family Terrorism?   Only be resolving the flaws we have at the family level, can we reinforce ourselves such that Terrorism will no longer want to inject us with Fear and Intimidation because we cannot be turned.
         When two parents agree to not let Terrorism rule their family, they turn a house of Fear and Intimidation into one of Courage and Conviction.   Love replaces Hate, Happiness returns where Dismay once slept.  
       On the way home I didn't think at all about what I looked like.  I didn't look at people to see if they were looking at me--the man with the skirt.   I was thinking about the little boy.  I was hoping he would tell his parents the story abut the Ezekiel Stick and maybe say to them when they broke out in a fight or argument:  "Let's stick together!"