Wednesday, September 06, 2006

An unexpected reflection

With the imminent 5th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon comes much remembrance, documentation, and even speculation in the media. News groups are interviewing small towns who lost members of their community in the tragedy, email forwards on the topic are becoming more frequent again, and even PBS had a special last night about the structural engineering of the twin towers.

I wouldn't have expected to write about this topic- what more can be said? It was certainly horrific, and no words really do it justice. I would argue that words like freedom, hero, and terror have changed forever, and that to me these words mean nothing anymore, now that they have become so hackeneyed and manipulated, especially by our government. I would argue that point, if I were in the mood to talk politics. But I'm not.

Last Friday night, Mike and I watched a special on Dan Rather for a little while. Of course, the coverage of September 11th, 2001 is a giant notch in his journalistic belt, and when they replayed the familiar footage of people gaping back at the burning buildings while simultaneously running in the other direction, that horrible feeling of despair filled my stomach again. But it was different this time- as I pointed out to Mike. This time I saw the Empire State Building, my own office building for a time, engulfed by smoke, smoke that came from 30 blocks away. And now I see New York City as my city, and I remember the streets, and I know the people, and the attacks feel so much closer. I can imagine the people of New York, bustling through the subways, just trying to get to their offices, maybe holding a door open for someone, or maybe giving someone the finger- and in a split second all attention was directed to this one place, where something horrible was happening. And for a very short time, everyone felt bonded. The entire country clung together, trying to make sense of what had just happened.

But soon the reaction became angry. I remember a friend of mine saying that the U.S. should just not allow anyone in its borders anymore. I remember the relatively quick path to war with a country that our president has now admitted had nothing to do with these attacks. I remember the arguments about racial profiling in the airports, and the fear that began to grip everyone, constantly. In a way that is not morbid, I long for the time right after those attacks, when Americans, and those visiting America, and the rest of the world watching, came together to mourn and to care for each other.

There are a few conversations that I had with New Yorkers in my time there that stand out in my head. I remember when the attacks on the twin towers would somehow come up in conversation, and suddenly anyone who was in New York that day wanted to remember their story and tell me about it. And there was always this tone of humility and sadness in their voice, much like the tone of the entire country in those few moments before we went ballistic.

Last night we watched the movie Gangs of New York, which I believe was in many ways Martin Scorcese's response to 9/11. The entire movie draws out plots of anger, hatred, and revenge, until the end when there is a split second in which you realize how silly the conflicts are in the face of much greater danger. The last scene of the movie shows the evolution of New York City in the last 100 or so years, coming to a final shot of the twin towers, and to me this shot is a call for peace. All of these fights that we face, or provoke as the case may be, are nothing in the grand scheme of things. Are these the kinds of causes that we really want to die for?

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