Saturday, September 10, 2011
It seemed a day like any other day. I woke as always to the buzzing of the bedside alarm, hit the snooze button, woke again five minutes later, rolled out of bed, made my way sleepy-eyed down the hallway, tripped over the dog in the usual way, let the dog out to the patio, went to the kitchen, put a pot of water on the stove to boil for coffee.
It was a Tuesday.
I sat down in the living room to wait for the water, picked up the remote, turned on the TV.
And learned that the world had changed.
The date was September 11, 2001, and the images that came to the TV screen were from another universe, another dimension. They were science fiction, scenes from a nightmare, lurid, hysterical, inexplicable.
It seemed that a jetliner had somehow crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. But how was this possible? The newscasters seemed, for once, as much in the dark as their morning viewers. Billowing clouds of black smoke were rising from the fractured tower. Sirens were wailing, red lights flashing, policemen and firemen rushing this way and that like frantic insects suddenly kicked from a nest, unsure of which way to run. How many had already perished in the flaming tower? And what of the passengers on the plane?
But then, of course, it got worse.
A second plane appeared impossibly from the blue, altogether out of place, grotesque. The second plane impacted the second tower. The tongue of hell slashed the veneer of heaven and the open mouth of evil belched fire and smoke and choking soot, sending flaming shards to the earth--of metal, of glass, of flesh and blood.
Perhaps 90 percent of the people who watched these events on their television screens, or witnessed their unfolding in person, would later describe their initial reaction of one of disbelief. It had happened right before our eyes, and yet it could not have happened. We had missed something, something was wrong, and if we would but hold our breaths for a half minute longer, it would all come clear.
And it did.
A third jetliner ploughed into the Pentagon in Virginia. A bit later a fourth would plummet to the earth in Pennsylvania.
These were not terrible accidents. This was premeditated murder. And war.
I remember going back to the bedroom to wake my wife. Something had to be done, and surely she would have some idea of what. As yet I had only sat and watched. What now? What now? A sadness was upon me, black as smoke, heavy as stone. I was falling from high in a tower. All of us were falling at once.
Every generation has at least one defining moment. In 1941 it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. In 1963 it was the killing by assassination of John F. Kennedy. Ours happened on a Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
One will hear people say that innocence, as a defining characteristic of society, died long ago. But I do not believe that is true. Rather, innocence throughout this sad mortal life dies over and over again, at every age and in every people. It dies new on each occasion. What cannot be comes about nonetheless, and our fear is suddenly upon us--because someone somewhere, once again, has mistaken individual human beings for cardboard tokens, pieces in a game, political ideas, and has from the blindness of an alien and bankrupt soul plunged the real world into misery. Again, again, and once again.
If innocence dies always and forever, simplicity is the breath that brings life again. “All we want is to be left alone,” Jefferson Davis said. It is simple, it is naïve, and it will never happen. And yet it is the eternal anthem of the common man.