9/11…That Moment of Extremes

Hard to quip much today. Get all hot and bothered about the latest political reports or that slew of responses to an incendiary Blogher piece from days ago. Hard to crank up enthusiasm for the usual rounds of clicks, tweets, forwards, likes, and comments. Oh, I will; it’s such a part of the day-to-maintenance of projects – yours, mine, and others – that there’s no point in dropping every ball. But still, as I sit here, looking out at the blue sky, embarking upon my day just as I did those eleven years ago, I’m drawn back to those feelings, that sense of horror and sorrow, and it still feels raw, still so bloody sad.

Particularly when whatever solidarity and coming together we experienced those few weeks, maybe months, afterwards, appears to have slipped away, under the rug thrown over open-heartedness and compassion in lieu of continuing fear. So here we are, right back at it; right back to that pugilistic, teeth-baring, adversarial stance we let go of for a while during that time. That was the one bright, gleaming spot in a whole shit-pile of horrible. Tragedy has a way of rising us up beyond our more base instincts and I’ve always believed that place we rise to is the truer form of self. The one free from the narrower, less loving, less compassionate concerns that sweep us away the rest of the time.

Mostly I think back on that day as one in which the entire world changed. Not just us, not just them, everyone. Here, it brought us the Patriot Act, airport restrictions, smaller shampoo bottles,  metastasizing religious fundamentalism, deepening bigotry, political lies leading to war, bizarre color codes alerts, fear of men in beards, fear of women in hijabs, fear of each other, fear of…fear. And as the years have gone by and no greater attacks have happened, as the misguided war in Iraq ended, as we buried Osama bin Laden in the sea, and a new administration steered us away from cowboy posturing toward a more nuanced relationship with the world, there has been a relaxing of shoulders to some extent. As least regarding the fear of terrorism.

Now we focus on more local, more mundane, terrors: fear of gun deaths, loss of civil liberties, panic in the economy, sexism in social politics, the ramping up of conservative theocracy, and the deepening sense that while we may all be in it together, we’re so fearful of collaboration, compromise and conciliation that we’d rather push each other away, push each other into walls, push each other out the doors than find a way to coexist with any workable combination of our varying viewpoints. That’s the greatest destruction we can wreak upon each other at this point and yet…we continue.

So today I think about that day when my 8 year-old-son wondered what on earth was happening but went to school anyway and the rest of us sat around the TV for days with tears and without interruption, making calls, sending emails, talking to neighbors; sharing our horror and sadness in all the ways we could. I find myself this week compulsively watching any documentary or show about that day (The Falling Man based on Tom Junod’s incredible piece in Esquire was particularly poignant and heartbreaking), climbing inside the thoughts and emotions, as much as possible, of the people caught in those buildings and those waiting for them at home, so many, as we know, whose vigils were for naught.

That event reduced our petty concerns to their proper level of pettiness and we got BIG for a while; able to empathize and embrace our fellow man as just that: our fellow man. It was an excruciatingly horrible time that also revealed the very best of us.


I won’t even try to extrapolate any comparisons to now, to this moment in time. I won’t attempt to draw parallels or excoriate anyone for their continued embrace of fear and bigotry. I’m just remembering the day. The people. The sorrow. The falling man. The heroes. The coming together. It will never stop being a moment of extremes. And I’ll likely feel them every anniversary…

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