Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Six years ago we all changed

I wrote this about six years ago a few days af Sept. 11.

Some of you have heard some of this in bits and pieces before from me, and for any redundancy i apologize. at a time of great tragedy and seemingly unbridled emotions that run the gamut from shock to despair to rage, the last thing any of us needs is redundancy from some arbitrary guy on his own makeshift pulpit, RIGHT?

8:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. A generation seeking definition got something it never could have wished for when iconic symbols of the indomitableness of capitalism were leveled by the actions of some madmen. (though formally trained as a "journalist" from a prestigious school [read expensive] i feel OK using madmen here).

I didn't learn about the two jets ramming into the World Trade Center towers and the jet hitting the Pentagon and yet another jet crashing in Pennsylvania until like 11 a.m., when an episode of Bewitched on the WB got interrupted by "breaking news." I had been sleeping in Tuesday, because of the then-seemingly important primary elections in New York state. When I saw the first video of the crashes and the burning upper levels of the tower it just didn't hit me what had happened. I naively assumed with a cool-headedness a child has when his Lego house gets run over by the family dog, that we would simply rebuild the top floors of the towers -- no problem.

When NBC showed the first footage (that I got to see) of the concrete, steel and glass transmute to dust and fire, naivete was replaced by a numbness, which still has a life in me. every time i think that i have processed the disaster, i see footage of another man or woman, mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter, holding a photo up to a television camera making a futile and desperate plea for someone to phone home and i shed another tear. the numb parts of me keep melting and someday maybe i won't cry anymore.

When I finally dragged myself away from the television and into the office, it seemed as though I had walked into a movie and not my place of work, which lately had been my own personal heck (hell, is way too strong a word, but i certainly have not been happy heading to work in the last few months). Editors were running around like headless chickens -- one told an editorial assistant that he would be an asshole all day, and not to take things personally -- and reporters were all living this major contradiction. They were at once singularly focused on the disaster but they were distracted by everything about it.

I don't remember a whole lot to be honest about that first day -- at least not in enough detail as to where i would bore any of you with it (at least not more than i already have and am continuing to do with these asides). I did my job basically is what I remember, talked to people about their reactions and then got back to work and tried to write them. but as they struggled to find the words to describe what happened I also failed to find the words to describe what they told me and the looks in their eyes. now five days later the words still don't come.

Day 2 is honestly more of a blur than day one. thanks to the insight of a colleague, i realized that the reason we all were fucked up with this one, is that we were our subjects. unlike covering a funeral when you sympathize, but can maintain your professional distance by drawing on your training and experience, it was virtually impossible to disconnect.

the things that really stick out are crying just a little on the way to work, knowing that thousands of others would never be going to work again and the two army recruiters i talked to for a story on recruiting asking me to go work for the army as a reporter. Getting assigned the story about angry citizens signing up to join an organization that defends freedom by abandoning their free will and undertaking the most futile act imagineable if called upon (going to war), was surreal (apologies salvador dali for probably misusing the word). Here I was a pacifist talking to people who knew what the problem was and more importantly -- the solution. More guns.

I guess in this case the process imitates the life experience (score one for jackson pollack). in the midst of this I was holding onto the one great joy in my life.... the birth of my nephew. unfortunately the events of last week so overpowered me that i didn't mention it until now, much as how last week alex morgan (don't know how to spell last name) was not really on my radar screen that much. sad, huh, that a terrorist horror drowned out life's greatest gift of all (holy we are the world, batman!).

Realizing that my i wasn't coping very well, i cut out of work pretty early wednesday, before more everyone else. and before the second day of free dinner. seems as though when glass-office editors have to work late at night then dinner is for everyone. must be nice. but more important than free dinner was the need to be alone with my emotions and thoughts. So i headed out to my favorite place in the Capital Region and perhaps my fave place ever -- the Grafton Peace Pagoda. a 120-foot buddhist monument dedicated to Peace. there i found inspiration in words -- something i had not been able to provide myself.

"We all hurt. We all suffer the sins of man, not as nations or as religious organizations, but as one spirit."

By this time declarations of payback and retribution and vengeance were making their way onto the airwaves and into the papers and onto mass e-mail forward lists. as sad as everything up to that point had made me, this made me sadder than anything else. more lives will be lost. though perhaps not innocent, all i could ask myself was how innocent am i? have i not been complicitous with my own government when they have done things i would object to if they bothered to tell me about them?

i wouldn't figure it out until later, when a pastor at a local church articulated it, but the words of our president really bothered me. he has quickly become known for his God Bless America sign off, but where was God in his life? How could a loving God who preaches forgiveness and turning the other cheek, possibly condone killing? how hypocritical to abandon the most basic of tenets as soon as it was no longer convenient. Shouldn't true leadership and greatness be the ability to hold fast to one's ideals during the most trying of crises. For how can one formulate an ideal solution to a problem if one does not live to ideals in his life????

I slept easier though wednesday night..... for i at least had discovered the roots of my own turmoil related to the attacks. I was now able to focus on just processing the deaths of thousands, billions of dollars in destruction and a paralyzed nation.... wait a second, why did i want the clarity to deal again???? suddenly i felt like a starfleet cadet (sorry, non star trek fans) stuck in the Kobayashi Maru (the no-win scenario). and just as i was about to feel sorry for myself, i saw footage of someone holding up a photo to a television camera asking for a loved one to contact him. despite all the perspective the disaster had brought, i was still petty enough to think that my problems mattered.

Thursday brought more of the same, but also something new. as the news channels continued their commercial free 24-hour coverage, the unfolding of events was slowing, and the propogation of fringe thoughts and tangential analysis was becoming more common. "now we take you to INSERT TOWN NAME HERE, where the man on the street wants to know when the U.S will respond and how forcefully"

Oscar Wilde once said that patriotism is the virtue of the viscious. I found myself in agreement lately. Not that i hate america or don't appreciate the fact that it allows me to criticize, live like a fat cat and enjoy freedoms unlike anywhere else, and i wouldn't trade it for the world. but the idea of human-made lines on a map indicating whose life may be worth saving and whose life may be worth taking, just doesn't make sense. and to too many people the red white and blue were starting to become a symbol for taking up arms. The President's promises of getting the folks who did this, only seem to serve to buoy those whose narrow vision of justice is not peace and liberty and merciful authority, but an eye for an eye.

Fortunately friday and saturday afforded me the distraction of my nephew. sunday brought me back to work, and perhaps my first sense of hope since visiting the peace pagoda. i met Jo Page, pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Niskayuna, NY. Though I am an atheist and have been for some time, i do not deny the power of spirituality nor my own alt-belief in a form of spirituality and faith -- mine is just in humanity and the wonders that are us. nevertheless, Jo Page is one of those people that has a radiance, one cannot help but be illuminated by. she challenged her congregation to embrace all the forgiving precepts (bad word?) of christianity in this time of crisis.... and it was music to my ears.

tomorrow (or actually later today) is another day.... i hope to continue hearing the music

1 comment:

The Reel Man said...

Great entry. Reminds me of the Lincoln quote which even though I'm an agnostic-bordering-on-athiest, I still like: "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side..." Basically just replace the word "God" with some kind of objective morality. :) You know, humanism.