Friday, September 11, 2020

September 11th Reflection essay

Written during college Fall 2001. Santa Barbara, CA.

How deserted lies the city, 

Once so full of people!

How like a widow is she, 

Who once was great among the nations!

She who was queen among the provinces 

Has now become a slave. 


Bitterly she weeps at night, 

Tears are upon her cheeks.


Lamentations 1:1-2


The alarm clock goes off and in a daze I walk into the shower. Misty comes in and is talking about something in New York. I hear the words “fire” and “World Trade Center” and in my ignorant stupor fail to realize the severity of the situation. I fail to make the connection that there has been an attack on my nation and that many people are dead or dying. My class is cancelled and I travel, with a herd of others, to our school cafeteria to watch the history unfolding. I view the horrific scene of the plane crashing into the second tower of the trade center again and again and again and am overwhelmed with indescribable feelings. The words of Joseph Conrad echo and I can think of nothing more besides, the horror. The horror. I gave up at the screen completely dumbfounded and try to decipher the nonsensical and imperceptible jargon and commentary coming from those just as confused as we. So many lives lost. The carnage too deep even to comprehend. Two hundred sixty six killed in airplanes. Eight hundred people working in that particular section of the Pentagon. Over fifty thousand people supposed to be in the World Trade Centers that day.

 I run numbers in my head. One hundred and sixty eight: number killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing. Two hundred: number of people who lived in my dorm last year. Eight hundred: Three-fourths of the population of my school. Fifty thousand: The number of people that live in my town. Five: The number of people I wish that I could hold right now. 

Like Alice, I have descended down a rabbit hole into absurdity and confusion and have not yet awakened from this unshakable nightmare. Everyone is making declarations.

 “War has been declared on America.” 

“Osama Bin Laden is the prime suspect believed to be responsible.” 

“We are going to punish the people responsible for this and the nations that harbor them,” our President George W. Bush says. 

A chill runs up my spine when I think how many more may die if that is the course of action that is taken. I cannot understand this mentality of retaliation. Attacking Afghanistan, for the acts of a few extreme fundamentalists, seems synonymous with beating a child to teach him not to hit his brother. To paraphrase Ghandi, if we all maintain the mentality of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth we will soon be interacting with a plethora of blind and toothless people. Will this decisive action, on the part of the Americans, cause greater long term destruction? Will it continue the downward spiral of hate, turmoil, pain, and prejudice for years to come?

            Will there be a war? Will this situation escalate into the Vietnam of my college years? There is a fear of war, fear of retaliation, fear of death, and fear of a recurrent situation as America’s pseudo security is shattered. The mighty nation is enslaved, overturned, and her underbelly is exposed and bleeding. Billions of dollars spent on military intelligence, airport security, and anti-terrorist precautions; in vain. The American machine is reminded that it too, like the rest of the world, can bleed. And in a matter of minutes, a system of order becomes complete chaos as for the first time ever all airports were shut down, national monuments closed, our biggest military office overturned, and our financial market in complete disarray. We have been, up until this point, America the mighty, America the invincible. We have arrogantly stood behind our iron fortresses, often ignorant and deaf towards the pleas of our neighbors; we are now amongst the pleading. 

            We are instantaneously reminded of our own individual mortality and of how fleeting this life really is. In an attempt to decipher the emotions of the situation, to recognize our own grief, to express lament for our nation, and to find God in all of this, our school holds a memorial service. Softly we sing. Humbly we pray. One by one people come and lay roses under the freshly planted tree. Someone tells me that there are a thousand. The line is seemingly endless and I weep to think how many is a thousand. A thousand is too many. 

            “Did you notice? It has heart shaped leaves.” Kate softly laments as she leans her head against mine. Together we gaze at the memorial tree and the shape seems incredibly appropriate as I think of all the broken hearted people mourning the loss of their loved ones today all over the nation. Some having already received the awful news that they have located a body. And others wait in agonizing anticipation as they know nothing more except that their precious family member is missing. They have potentially become someone without a mother, father, child, spouse, or friend. As they think of the void that would replace that person, a wet shawl of fear suffocates them and every breath is anguishing. 

            Across from me I see Rob propped up against a tree, just staring. Like most of the rest of us he is completely numb. He simply doesn’t understand. Elair walks by and, as she places her flower beneath the tree, shatters the silence with a sobbing gasp. She covers her mouth with her hand, fearful of the sound that has escaped her. It is the epitome of the noise of grief: choked, stifled, obtuse, saturated with pain, and desperate to be heard. She fears that such a horrific grief has taken root in her heart. The college president joins his wife. He tries to retain his composure I watch her small hand slide around his arm and his face grimaces as his stoicism slowly dissolves. She will hold him tonight, and together, they will weep. 

            I turn my head and an unassuming angel of the Lord appears in the midst of this burning bush. Out of chaos, uncertainty, and fear: God again speaks. This time his megaphone is a baby sleeping in her father’s arms. I am overwhelmed at the sight of such serenity. The dam of emotions has been broken and tears of peace flow down my cheeks onto this hallowed ground. The looming presence of the night forcefully envelops me and I am reminded of the words denoting a similar situation. It is a silent and holy night in which all is suddenly calm and is becoming exceedingly bright.

Image from Public Domain pictures

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