Nine Eleven; who could have ever fathomed that that number combo would become this generation’s Pearl Harbor, etching in our brains forever, exactly, where we were the moment everything went to hell.
Indeed, many of us of can recall personal times and places when certain tragedies befell the world … I have vague memories of the shooting of JFK, I remember my mother crying and lots of neighbors at our house for some reason, none of it made much sense to me. Years later when Martin Luther King was killed, I watched my own city, Philadelphia, explode. Our school was locked down and parents had to come and pick us up. When my father showed up for my sister and me, we did not go home, but instead went to my aunt’s home. I did not know at the time, that the end of Broad Street we would have to have traveled had turned into a bloody race riot. By going to my Aunt’s home, we bypassed the horror. That same year, Bobby Kennedy was killed. I remember spending the entire school day in the auditorium while teachers spoke to us about this latest tragedy.
Later on in life, there other moments I can pin point based on the historical tragic marker that occurred; John Lennon’s murder for instance found me and my best friend at the time at a bar, late that night and a waitress came up to tell us, we rushed to the front of the bar and there it was on the television; helter skelter …. When Reagan was shot, I’d just arrived home from a doctor’s appointment, I was having my blood sugars tested and had therefore fasted twelve hours. Coming home, I plopped down in front of the TV and wolfed down a sandwich and a bottle of coke while the entire drama of John Hinckley’s sick fascination for Jodie Foster turned into attempted murder.
The one thing about 9/11 that I recall most was the weather. It was a beautiful September morning. The sky was clear and so blue --- A Blue Sky Day --- I was at my desk in work and the phone rang and my significant other had called to tell me that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center; tragic, and scary, but it seemed like a freak accident. Within minutes, word came that a second plane hit the other tower. People were beginning to panic and yet, for some reason, my supervisor decided to have a staff meeting. Soon word spread that another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania and another in Washington, DC. Needless to say, the meeting was disbanded and rumors began to circulate like mad.
Since nobody was getting much work done, I excused myself and decided to go home and be with my partner. As I drove I was once again hit with that gorgeous sky ---A Blue Sky Day --- how could anything this horrific come from that beautiful sky---meanwhile on the road, traffic was strangely absent. It was as if everyone was stopped in time, frozen, while trying to wrap their minds around what was happening.
The radio stations were going insane with all kinds of wild reports and speculation, even the local Public Radio Station was reporting unsubstantiated pieces about other missing planes and possible other crashes.
It was then that I experienced my own personal terrorism attack. Although the sun was shining and Southern New Jersey was unseasonably warm and summer-like, I was shaking, shivering. I had to pull my car over for a moment and compose myself. I don’t exactly know what happened to me, but it was powerful and stopped me in my tracks.
A few moments later, I finally felt somewhat better and began to drive back home, though I must have smoked an entire pack of cigarettes during the rest of the ride. I had turned the radio off and drove the rest of the way in silence.
When I got off the highway and pulled into town, I saw two women standing outside of a bookstore. They were holding each other. I think that one of them was crying. I wondered if I would cry over this, could I? No, not then, I felt something else, something sharp and cold and steely that turned my emotions off. It would stay with me for some time.
The traffic light where I turned at was blinking. I had never seen it do this before, I wondered for a brief second if the entire infrastructure of America was indeed crumbling and in time we’d all be reduced to living in a brave new world.
When I got home I found my partner sitting stone quiet in the living room. He was watching a re-run of Bewitched. I did not even question why he was doing this; he had seen enough, it was time to go to a safe magic place. I poured a glass of wine (something I never do in the middle of the day) and sat down on the sofa and watched Samantha get Derwood out of another metaphysical jam. We sat closely and did not say much for almost an hour.
The rest of the day was a blur; trying to call friends in New York and Washington, calling parents and acquaintances; trying to find something intelligent to say about this naked horror that had befallen us.
I do remember that we ate cereal for dinner that night, and I remember watching the news and feeling that now familiar numb steely feeling take over again. I felt nothing, and that felt great.
That steely feeling stayed with me for one whole week.
As people I encountered showed rage, and fear and sadness over the events of Tuesday morning, I just sat and watched.
Then, one week later, the following Tuesday, I had the day off for a dentist’s appointment. It was early in the morning and one of the TV stations was showing footage from the week before. As they cycled the photos and played Adagio for Strings, something inside of me broke wide open, and I cried … I sobbed; I fell down on my knees and began to slam my fists into the carpet until my hands were red.
I could feel again.
So, here it is three years later. What have we learned? Terrorism is still rampant (look at that school in Russia last week where all of those children were killed), America is embroiled in a war that has only served to sow the seeds of even more fanaticism abroad, our President has pretty much alienated us from the rest of the world with his cowboy mentality, I feel we might be a few years from a Nazi State if Mr. Ashcroft has anything to say about it … Yeah, what have we learned?
They say everything happens for a reason, that every experience good and bad is a learning experience. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have learned a damn thing.