Eight years ago while the rubble was still burning and planes across the skies were being grounded, we went to the Kansas state fair. My family was already there; they’d gone that morning. I finished up at work, which really wasn’t work any more, just the lot of us fumbling around at mindless tasks and every once in a while checking the television, or calling a friend or parent to make sure he was okay, that he hadn’t been flying or visiting the Pentagon or doing something else that should have been safe but that day had become deadly.
I drove to the fair feeling like maybe it was wrong, like maybe we shouldn’t do anything fun on this day. I also felt like it was exactly what we should do, like sitting at home in a darkened living room, huddled in front of the television, was too similar to the thugs huddled in their caves, plotting the destruction of a civilization vastly superior to their own. I stopped for gas amidst people topping off cans and other containers, carrying out their preparations for Armageddon. I remember thinking I needed ammunition, as if the blackhearted cultists celebrating in the streets of Palestine could somehow cross the ocean and lay siege to my home.
And then I was at the fair, and then I had all my family about me again, and everything was better. People were quieter than usual, even the music lilting from the rides seemed muted. Farmers huddled around radios, and there seemed to be a permanent crowd gathered about the local television station’s booth.
We ate and we looked at farm animals and our children rode the kiddie rides. We were alive in the middle of America, and while a lot of us wanted to kill someone for what was done that day, in our hearts was also this thankfulness that we lived here and not there, that our children knew a God who is love, and not a false prophet who calls children to detonate themselves in order to yield a sacrifice of burned and dismembered bodies.
I don’t understand many things that have happened since then. I don’t understand many things any more. I don’t know if all of it was right, the wars, the young men who have been sent to hurt and die, the choices about who will be our friends and enemies for a time. I only know it’s not simple, protecting ourselves from evil, because evil runs through every heart.
We’re going to the state fair again today. We’ll eat roasted corn and play the games that may or may not be rigged against us, and buy things that in the moment seem indispensable, and ride on contraptions that make my children squeal and make me feel queasy. We’ll walk again through the safe heart of America and I’ll be thankful that we live here and not there. If nothing else I know that. I’m thankful we live here, despite all its flaws, all the ways each of us imagines he could make it better. Thank God we live here and not there.