11. September 2010 · Comments Off on Repost for 9/11 – In the Shadows of Dissolving Towers · Categories: General

(I wrote this a couple of years ago, and posted last year on Open Salon – reposed for today)

Supposedly, seven years is the time it takes for a human body’s cells to regenerate, to have new cells completely replace the old cells. I don’t know that factoid is true, strictly speaking, or if it just applies to the skin. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that it’s not true at all, but is just one of those curiosities which seems right, if somewhat startling at first thought.

Seven years – eight years now, by the calendar; long enough for the scar tissue to grow over, for the breaks in the solid rock underpinning our universe to calcify, to heal over – and for us to become accustomed to living in a world without the silhouette of a pair of silver towers gleaming in the sunshine of a cool September morning. Long enough to become used to the absence, and accustomed to the wrenching changes, to acclimate ourselves to a new reality. But not long enough to become used to the absence, to the space in a life where a husband, a wife, a son or daughter, or a friend used to be. Never long enough to forget the sight of a tall building – first one and then the other – falling into itself, dissolving into a dark blizzard-cloud of smoke and debris, and taking the lives of thousands of people with it. No, never forget that; it’s the vision I see now, whenever I listen to Mozarts’ Requiem.

Eight years of change since that morning, the morning when our world shuddered and for many of us, wrenched itself onto a new track. The changes have come so thick and fast, that the glorious September morning now and again seems to have happened a couple of decades ago. Two wars, one which seems now to be perilously won and the other still in balance, two presidential elections, the rise of a new media, the slow implosion of the old – the aftermath of a violent hurricane devastating the Louisiana-Mississippi Gulf Coast,and any number of other events which strutted and fretted for their moment on the national and international stage; all of this moved the events of one day, the day of 9-11-01 away from a current event and into the pages of history.

But for today, and just for today, we set down the burdens of today for a moment, and remember.

This is the letter I wrote, over the following days, to my next-door neighbors in Athens, upon realizing how worried they would have been.

“Dear Penny and George:
I mailed a cheerful letter to you on Monday, with pictures of my garden and Blondie, but today I have woken up in another country. One of the NPR radio announcers was saying that, today when I was listening to the news, and it’s a bit melodramatic but correct. After Tuesday morning we are all in another country. I know from what I have read, and my mother says so also, that the America on Monday morning, December 8, 1941 was not the same place it had been twenty-four hours before. A lot of things were very, very different. Some of the changes came all at once, some developed more slowly.

I wanted to let you know that I am all right, and so is Blondie and the rest of my family. The trip to Egypt that she was going on is cancelled, a good thing to do considering the circumstances. Being military, we were already acquainted with the idea that your nationality and your uniform make you a target for people you have never met. The sick feeling in the pit of your stomach passes away after a couple of days, and you just take proper precautions and do your job and try not to be too paranoid. The Pentagon being a target was about par for the course, other bases and facilities have been blown up and threatened, it happens all the time. Someone told me once that the Hellenikon base got telephone bomb threats on an average of two or three a night, it was a big yawn and mostly a joke to us. But using commercial passenger planes, full of hundreds of people, crashing them into a huge office building, that goes so far beyond vile that most people cannot even find words.

I was the first person into the office on Tuesday, and I was listening to classical music on the radio and sorting out Mr. P—–s’ appointments. A woman who had his first appointment at 9:00 called to say she would be late, and she was almost hysterical, telling me that an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center, she couldn’t stop watching CNN, the building was on fire and I should turn on the news. I switched over to the news at once, of course. The two guys in the back office came in at 10:00 and tuned their radio to another news channel and for the rest of the day we could hardly bear to be out of the sound of them. Blondie kept e-mailing me from her office at Camp Pendleton, where the Marines had access to a higher grade of rumors than even the talk radio channel had, telling me to leave the building and go home at once. It seems that there were several other commercial airliners that could not be accounted for at once, and she insisted that one of them was headed for Texas. As noted frequently, Texas is a big place, and the Mercantile Building (which I work in) is comparatively small, and I had enough work to do, thank you anyway. She called in the afternoon, and when I answered the phone she yelled “I thought I told you to go home!”. The military is on Threat-Condition D, the highest there is. I don’t think we were ever in Threatcon D, even during the Gulf War. She says all the Marines in the unit were very tense: she walked up behind one of her male buddies and tickled his ear, and he jumped a mile, and nearly slugged her. Mr. P——–s’ sister called from South Carolina, also begging him to go home at once. Blondie begged me to call my parents, have them warn my sister and brothers. I did, just to get her to calm down, and when I got home that night, I called them again. My sister works at Jet Propulsion Labs, in Pasadena— they were sending everyone home at midday.

I walked over to the mall across the road today, to get some lunch, and I have never seen it so empty. All commercial aircraft were grounded, and still are. I have begun to miss the aircraft sliding down past our window on approach to the airport. I went to the grocery store last night on my way home, since I was out of milk. The parking lot a bit emptier, the clerks and other customers seeming a bit abstracted, but plenty of stuff on the shelves. The mail is being delivered, all the little things gratifyingly normal.

Later: Sept. 13
I can’t give blood, since I lived in Europe for so long. (Mad cow disease— and I couldn’t afford beef on the economy anyway!) When I retired, they presented me with a flag in a little triangular case, and I have a bracket on my front porch but no flag staff. I stopped at the hardware store to buy a four-foot length of dowel and some safety cup-hooks, and hung out my flag. People are putting them out on their houses. In my neighborhood it’s mostly the military and the military retirees, but more and more other people are doing so. The cashier in the hardware store told me she had fifteen American flags in stock that morning, but had sold every one of them.

I don’t know what they are writing in the English and the Greek newspapers about “The Mood Of Americans” after Tuesday. It’s a very odd, grim mood,, rather more the post-Dunkirk, stiff-upper-lip, all-in-this-together, get-the-job-done sort of mood that one associates with the British. I think a lot of people (myself included!) would expect Americans to be a bit more demonstrative, even a bit hysterical, but that’s just not the mood at all. Even as the numbness is wearing off, people are being very calm, very rational in accepting that war has been declared on us. And that has been accepted almost unanimously across the board by intellectual and otherwise, and by all political parties. There are the usual loudmouths indulging in petty violence and threats against Moslems, of course. But they are being told firmly to sit down, and shut up. This calamity fell across economic and party lines. There are cleaning women and heads of corporations among the dead, a political commentator, an actress and a couple of TV producers, ordinary people by the hundreds, certainly by the thousands. There were families on the aircraft, and hundreds of New York police and firemen. The single saddest thing I have read so far was of a fireman who was off-duty on Tuesday morning and taking his children to school. He saw his ladder company responding to the first crash, their truck passed him on the street, and all thirty or so were in the collapsing building twenty minutes later. We will not know for weeks how many were still in the Trade Center then, although it has now been well past time for people to have returned home on their own.

I won’t know until they publish a list of the Pentagon dead if any of them are people I knew. So we wait. This morning I drove through my neighborhood on my way to work, listening to the classical station as usual. I noticed more and more flags hanging from the houses, and the radio station began playing Elgar’s “Nimrod” variation, very sad, stately music, you would recognize it. And I was in tears, as I was driving down the street. Perhaps I am a little less numb this morning.

I am all right… just in another country.”

Later – found this through Rantburg (click through for all the pictures)

Comments closed.