September 15th, 2001


Things have changed

It's hard to believe what has happened. I doubted from the first moment I heard the news- it's like the opening line to a joke gone horribly awry. "So, these two planes crash into the WTC"... and I'm frantically calling G., trying to find out what happens, and even she has no idea, only images to tell, but we're in the first moments, so everything's collected and no shade of panic. She is saying it's only one plane, so there's this disbelief. I have only seen what I saw on television, and the fact that the skyline over where I live is horribly, brutally wrong. Even now, I will harbor some lingering doubt about what I haven't seen with my own eyes.

We try desperately to set up a television and we can only get the spanish-language channel up in time to watch building two collapse in on itself. G. is, in effect, trapped in her building for her own safety- the dust, debris, and reports of further terrorism convince me to tell her to stay. I know she's with a friend who can keep her company and I know I can pick her up as soon as the tidal flow of panic subsides. I head home, to try to plan a rescue for perhaps the evening. My parents have no idea until I call, and the same with S., who I wake and tell the news.

I spend the next thirty hours in my own head, calling to get updates from where G. is, watching the news in silence and trying to figure out an escape plan. I'm in leader mode, forgetting myself but reminding her to eat, to drink, to stay with others- all good words that I'm stupidly ignoring. I'm slowly fading as my adrenaline collapses, falling asleep in fits, getting updates via email and waiting for word that there is a path into the city. I finally yield to a pot of ramen, and just stare at the updates, trying to think of who has to be called.

G. stays overnight with J., at least safe. By noon the next day, the bridge approach from 4 opens and I make a beeline in to retrieve her. The GWB is monitored, stopping every truck, and I make it in via the east side highway. I try to cross at 70th, forgetting there is now Central Park between us until the street deadends, and I zig-zag until I find a way over to J.'s. Manhattan is devoid of cars save a few crazed limos and taxis, but like a strange weekend, all the children and people are out in the street, jaywalking, laughing and playing, jogging, as though nothing has happened. Forget the images of the tearful and watchful, staring at the sky. This is NYC.

I make it to J.'s, and we have some decent lunch, and watch them rent a movie. Finally we work our way back to NJ on the west side highway, past a parade of heavy trucks and equipment. We're home. It's calm now, and I'm back to normal. I go out to get some chicken at dinnertime, and the winds have changed enough to blow the smell of the dead and burning north over our house. It doesn't bother me a bit. I just need to know, how bad things are, what they know, are there any credible reports of why it happened.

Days later, and I'm not in shock or grief. I'm saddened by the occasional story or political cartoon, but not deeply moved. Not until today- we have morning coffee at Starbucks, and I hear a song I know well, one of very few songs by Bob Dylan that I like, and I find the words that I can empathize with, and I'm crying to myself, deep in thought.

"People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed" -(::)-

Nearly all the lyrics of this song ring true for me here today. My worries are gone, I've gone back to planning air travel, doing my job. I'm taking a time out to put all my thoughts to paper. But, even though it's not over and we're still in the thick of it, life for me has as much as possible gone back to the way things are before. Deep down I know this craziness is like any other day in the rest of the world. I'm quiet, but ony out of respect for those still experiencing it.

I'm the quintessential new yorker- liberal, Jewish athiest, emotional, quick to anger, quick to forget anger. I'll cry, but it only shows that I'm moving below the surface. I care less about what the story is, more that I am constantly suspicious of the edge that the storyteller is shilling. I know, from visual memory, the moment I see cheering Palestinians, that it is stock footage, only to hear that story circulate hours later, maybe after I told G. I watch the various demagogues line up, blaming the terrorist leaders. And I watch and listen as leaders try to use it as a chance to demonize their favorite targets- it's Evil, it's fundamentalism, it's American long-arm policy, it's corporate greed, it's the faithlessness of abortionists and homosexuals. Leaders, I think, forget that when they use the blood of those still buried, dead and dying, five days later, there are those like me that see them for who they are. If they want to use this as a chance to stump for their politics, why not come here, reach into the pit of those blasted to pieces, and shake them at me while they speak? I might listen then, at least they'd have integrity. Otherwise they are just a profiteer of the victims' good act, which was trying to live.

Me? I respect the fact that this is a democracy. Doubtless, the majority will ask for a reprisal against Islamic Fundamentalism and Osama Bin Laden, and I choose freely to live here inside that system. I've heard enough, even with my doubts, that Bin Laden must have ordered this. I'll listen and hope they at least make an attempt to put proof to paper and allow Afghanistan to formally reneg on their promise to extradite on proof, before thy go ahead and do what they would have done anyway. If it were my choice, first act as supreme leader of the world I'd throw most of Orthodox Israel, the Arab World, the Papacy, and most Christians in a big pit and torch them alive. Aren't you glad I also believe in democracy? As a Jew, we believe what most atheists believe, that what you do today must benefit the world today, and that only the living will ever care about what happens. There is no afterlife in Judaism. Orthodox Jews are only a focus of my anger because of their willingness to incite the anger of Christianity and Islam, even to deny that I'm really a Jew, and ruin the world for the rest of us. The rest... this mental disease, that you can be rewarded in the afterlife, needs a cure. It doesn't matter if one person goes to Heaven or Hell. The rest of us remain here, trapped alive. We have the task of living, and each of us must try to make that task bearable lest we find ourselves suffering at the hands of those who cannot.

And where we can do nothing? I have no answer. I was young and naive, once, that I could help to bring world peace, that violence and suffering only required one more dollar, one more kind act. I cannot fix a world that chooses to live as it does. I accept the law, the leadership, the corporate world, by taking my dollar at the end of the workweek and spending it freely as I please. I will do nearly anything to increase happiness for people I know and meet. I feel comfortable that at least here in a republic, a democracy of sorts, I have freedom as best as freedom can be defined, to do so. I vote, and vote to continue my freedoms under this republic, this democracy. As hardened, cynical as I am, I'm an American Patriot, I have never failed to cry at the national anthem. And yet, I would never force my will, never act on my angry moments against those I know have no respect for democracy and rule of freedom, including most of my fellow Americans. I would never throw them into the pit. because this is a democracy, and whatever the majority might say, I try to respect what the majority writes into law. I can only hope that my voice makes sense, that in speech and acts sensibility reigns and we continue to live in freedom, even if the rest of the world cannot. What sort of American Patriot am I? Hopefully one who can see through the propaganda and bully pulpit of emotion and the moment to make the right personal choices in my life. The rest can worry about Good and Evil, Moral and Immoral, Right and Wrong. I have only one job- I have to live my life. I guess for now, I continue to do so.
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