(Note: This blog entry also appeared as a guest column in The Oregonian, Sunday, December 5, 2010)
I didn’t attend the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Pioneer Courthouse Square here in Portland Friday evening. I wanted to, but my work schedule had other ideas. However, I took a few minutes out and my daughter and I watched the lighting on a local TV station broadcast. When the lights came on, we oohed and ahhed and lamented the fact that we weren’t there to experience the joyfulness of the evening in person. At the time, just like those attending, we had no idea of the sinister plot that had been hatched against our city and was skillfully aborted by the FBI and our local law enforcement officials.
My first reaction, on learning of the intended bombing of thousands of Portlanders, was shock and certainly relief that there had been no real danger to anyone attending, but those feelings quickly gave way to concern over what this meant for Portland in the future, for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony next year. Would there be tight security, would not as many people attend, would it be cancelled, and what would this mean for the other frequent large gatherings in our area?
Then concern gave way to anger, anger at the young man with a warped sense of right and wrong who stated he hated Americans, even as a high school student, and wanted to endanger us that way, but also an unnamed anger I couldn’t place at first. It wasn’t anger at the local Somali or Muslim community; I realize that these were the intentions of an individual and not a group. There was some anger and resentment at the fact that someone who had been welcomed into a community, a city, a country and had the opportunity for a vastly better life than one in the country where he had been born could repay that with the intended destruction of thousands of innocent lives, but it was more than that.
My daughter finally summed it up in these four words: “It is a violation.” Yes. That’s the anger. I feel violated. We feel violated. The instant she said it I was transported back to the time when we first moved to the Tampa Bay area. We’d only lived there a couple of months when our old car was stolen and totaled. We bought a new car, and just a month after we bought it we came out one morning to find it had been bashed in, the back right fender crumpled, and felt sick at the sight. We didn’t know who did it, any more than we knew who stole our car when we first arrived. But that sick feeling, that anger, was because we felt violated.
Two months later, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I had gone down to the company where I was working at the time and was on my way home, a short 10-minute drive. Halfway there a white pickup truck was coming toward me in the opposite direction. Just as our vehicles passed each other, someone in the back of the truck heaved a large broken piece of a concrete block at my windshield. It hit the roof of the car instead, just missing my face by inches. I was grateful for having escaped injury, but there was a large dent in the roof. I felt violated again.
In the wake of this succession of assaults on our property, and the assault intended to injure me personally, we began to question having moved to the Tampa Bay area at all. Maybe it was a mistake, maybe we weren’t supposed to have moved, maybe we should turn tail and run back to the smaller, safer town we’d moved from. But after thinking about it, we decided, no. We weren’t running. Things happen. But this was where we wanted to be, and unpleasant as these things were, they weren’t going to ruin, or run, our lives. And, as it turned out, we were glad we stayed.
Next year when the Christmas tree lighting ceremony is held at Pioneer Courthouse Square, “Portland’s Living Room,” I have no doubt it will be well attended. I hope to be there myself. If I’ve learned anything about Portlanders in my almost 7 months here, it’s that they are a fiercely independent people who don’t let others deter them from living the way they wish. That independent spirit is reflected in the Oregon state motto, “She flies with her own wings.” It’s a temporary feeling, this violation. Although everyone will remember the horrible thing that almost happened, we’ll continue to live as we wish. This is Portland.