Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
September 29 - Ground Zero Plus 747
FROM THE ARCHIVES
March 23, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 193
The Skepticism Of Vigilance
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York
City, Mar. 23--Skeptics rule the world. They always have.
They do not intend to be the power of society, but they are. They
form the mass of society's gravity, its nucleus. The more of them
that huddle in the middle of the atom, pressing tighter and tighter
against the others, the heavier their skepticism becomes, the harder
it is to move them from their Ground Zero.
"Nope that's not going to happen to us!"
I might be harsh in using
the word "skepticism" to illustrate a society that doesn't act in
its own behalf--it is society's second nature to be sluggish about
change. I use the word "skepticism" because a skeptic usually hides
behind a refusal to change--is lazy, and would rather stick himself
or herself in the rut of current behavior than force a change in his
or her behavior, belief systems.
Change is work; skeptics are naturally lazy. A skeptic
expends lots of energy to maintain his or her laziness, shaking
one's head and saying: "Nope, that's not going to happen to me!"
"Nope, that's not my business!" "Nope, I can't do anything about
it, let someone else handle it--that's why I pay taxes." "Nope, you
show me proof I'm going to be directly affected and then I'll act,
but only after I've reviewed all the evidence and cross-examined all
the witnesses." Or, the worst of all, "That's not my job!"
Skeptics are Complacent people, forcing themselves to dig
their ruts deeper, to toss off individual responsibility until the
threat is so impending that it becomes guns to their heads, forcing
change, rooting them out of their ruts.
I'm one. I know the feeling.
I smoke. I hate smoking. I fear its consequences. I extol
the virtues of not smoking. But I don't act. My doctor wants me
to take a pulmonary test to scare me into quitting. I keep getting
the authorizations for the test, but not taking them. I tell
myself--"I can quit whenever I want. It's a matter of will power!"
I lie to myself. Every day that goes by, I get one accelerated day
closer to a horrible death from smoking.
Weight is the same thing. I eat foolishly until my trousers
burst. Then I start dieting. It takes the smoking gun to my head
to drive me to diet, to exercise. I am a skeptic in this arena.
Religiously, I fight accepting dogma. I am skeptical that
any "religion" is the "key" to salvation, the best road to
nirvana. So I stand an arm's length away, not wanting to accept
any particular one, and telling myself I accept them all. I do not
choose any one. It's safer for me to be "skeptical," because I am
Complacent, not wanting to change old behaviors.
There are many other areas of my life in which I am a skeptic,
so I am not piously throwing rocks at people who are skeptics from
my glass house. I am human. Humans are, by nature,
skeptics--Complacent about changing who they are and what they
believe. They naturally resist change because to shift from
Complacency requires Action, a leap of Faith not all are willing to
take. Action presents risks. Action is dangerous because one
might make a mistake and wish one never had opted for the Action,
and instead remained in the armchair of Complacency, protected by
his or her skepticism.
Vigilance requires Action. It demands one leap out of the
comfort of the armchair of Complacency and salute a new flag, to
take a Pledge of Vigilance, and to don the clothing of a Sentinel of
Vigilance--and, the most difficult of all tasks, to carry around
with them the Shield of Vigilance to ward of Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency with the sword of Courage, Conviction and Action.
It ain't an easy leap.
When you're slumped into the easy chair, a hot cup of coffee
in your paw, watching your favorite television show, body and mind
exhausted from a long day's work, you don't want to think about much
except relaxing, enjoying the mind wash of watching others on the
tube and then crawling in bed to recycle yourself so you can go out
and do the same thing you did the day before, and the day before,
and the day before, and will do the day after, and the day after,
and the day after that day.
Skepticism protects our ruts. It guards us from addressing
our boredom, our lack of action. It keeps us hidden in our hostels
of routine, our ruts of regime.
Personally, I love skepticism--until, that is, it turns on me
as my smoking will, or my weight does, or my lack of committed
Yesterday was an example I won't soon forget.
Some days, many of them in fact, I awaken to write my daily
story on Vigilance. I've had so much trouble getting my website
recognized, and so little response to it, that I often feel I am
throwing feathers into the wind, that my words are just whipping
into cyber nothingness--meaningless fodder in a world that cannot
see them, and, doesn't particularly care to.
My Biggest Fan
My biggest fan is my wife
who edits the pages each day. But, with her, I am singing to the
choir. Not that I don't respect her opinion or comments, but I know
she believes as I, and my words are supposed to have impact, make
some change, create some turmoil in the skeptics, roll the rock of
Complacency from the tomb so the spirits of Vigilance can be
resurrected, and the lost souls can be regenerated, sparked to life,
At times, I doubt even my own intentions--am I really on the
right track? Is this really the right path for me? Shouldn't I be
doing something else, like getting a "real job," and making a "real
But yesterday made everything I'm doing come to fruition. It
reinforced and cemented in heart and soul that I am on the right
track, that I mustn't put the Shield of Vigilance down no matter how
heavy it may seem, no matter how onerous the feeling I have of being
a starving Voice in a cacophony of giants.
The knowledge that I was doing the right thing came to when I
took care of my three-year-old granddaughter, Sarah, yesterday.
My daughter, her mother, was finishing her thesis for
graduation from Union Theological Seminary this coming May. My
wife had a doctors appointment. I volunteered to take Sarah to her
gym class at Chelsea Pier, and then elected to take her to Toys R Us
and perhaps FAO Swartz toy store, go down and pick up our grandson
from school and have lunch at McDonald's and then go to my apartment
until 5p.m. when the kids' mother and father would pick them up.
It was, as Winnie The Poo would say, a "cold and blustery
day." Icy winds whipped, chilling you to the bone. I wrapped
Sarah up in layers of shirts and vests and jackets and scarves, and
we headed out into the wind and cold--my 270 pound six-foot
four-inch oil tanker body and her 34-pound 3-foot 4-inch frame in
Sarah and I have kind of a pact--I carry her on my shoulders
everywhere possible. "G-Pa, can I ride on your shoulders?" Her
request cannot be denied, especially when she stands in front of you
on a windy sidewalk, back facing you, arm's outstretched forming a
"T" waiting for you to scoop her up and put her on your shoulders.
Off we went. We fought the cold wind enroute to the bus,
then Chelsea Pier, and
afterward, working our way to 42nd Street where Toys R Us has an
incredible indoor Ferris wheel, with the seats from different
children's character themes like Barbie, Toy Story, Cabbage Patch
Kids and Nicklelodian.
Unfortunately, on the way, we passed by the Hello Dolly Store,
an outlet that exclusively sells Hello Dolly paraphernalia. Sarah
ran to a doll, wrapped her arms around it and said she loved it.
Grandpa's don't check the prices of such items, they just put it on
the sales counter and pull out their worn thin credit card.
"Ouch," I said as the clerk told me it was $34, a collector's
item, Hello Kitty with a Grammy Award. "Oh," I replied, "that makes
it so much easier to accept!" She laughed and I grimaced, but
figured the look in Sarah's eyes was worth the investment--and after
all--it was a collector's item! Perhaps one day it might be worth a
We spent the day riding the Ferris wheel,
looking at Barbie toys, and giant dinosaurs that the store has to
awe both children and parents. Before we knew it, it was time to
go get Matthew, her five-year-old brother. So we bundled up again
and forged our way into the crowded, wind-swept streets with Hello
Kitty, to catch a couple of buses downtown.
Sarah was tired. Her gym
class is exhausting, and going from the cold to warm, and the
excitement of the store, all bore their weight on her. She fell
asleep in my arms.
I held her on the crowded bus, rocking her. Then we exited
one bus to catch another. I stood in the cold with her limp body
secured in my arms, watching her feet and fingers twitch, wondering
why she didn't flinch when siren-blaring ambulances roared by the
bus stop en route to Beth Israel or Bellevue.
It took a while for the
second bus to come, and her weight was beginning to affect my arms.
I shifted her up onto my shoulder, cradling her bottom in the crook
of my arm, adjusting her head so it wouldn't loll off my shoulder.
She was a lovely little rag doll.
On the bus I held her against my chest, squeezing in between a
herd of junior high school kids just released from a day of
classes. Their Voices cut loudly into my ears--a kind of screech
that I was sure would awaken Sarah, but didn't.
As we rode downtown, I began to sense the reason I write every
day about Vigilance in a new light. Sarah had put her entire trust
in me as she clung in her serene somnolence to her G-Pa. I looked
around at the young girls on the bus, wondering if they had
Sentinels of Vigilance standing guard over their Fears, their
Intimidations, their Complacencies.
The warm, innocent body in my arms squeezed against me,
adjusting herself so she could sleep peacefully, her mind not
worrying about the bogeymen of life, not wondering if she was loved,
or cared about, or had people who helped her understand the bright
side of life, its vast and limitless opportunities.
Climbing off the bus, people made a path for Sarah and me,
something unique on a crowded New York Bus. Usually, it's every
man or woman for him or herself getting on and off the bus. But
there was a respect for the sleeping child in my arms, and the big
guy laden with packages trying to negotiate his way down the aisle
and to the door.
As Sarah clutched at
shoulders to keep herself glued to my chest as we weaved our way
into the school, I felt like a giant--a true Sentinel of
Vigilance. I knew at that moment that every parent, grandparent,
guardian and loved one of children, given enough time and enough
promotion, would deeply consider taking the Pledge of Vigilance. I
knew that even if they didn't, if they thought about the
responsibility to commit to Action to protect their children from
the Terrorism of Thought as well as the Terrorism of Fear,
Intimidation and Complacency--that all my work would pay off in some
anonymous, residual way to the benefit of the Sarah's and Matthew's
of the world.
Most importantly, I felt right-sized. I felt good about what
I was doing. I felt the strength of Vigilance transferring from the
trust Sarah gave to me to protect her.
At that moment I re-vowed the Pledge of Vigilance to myself.
And, I gave Sarah a big hug of thanks for reminding me that
skepticism can grow to belief.