9/11 – Ten Years On

On September 10, 2001, I boarded United Airlines flight #93 to return to San Francisco after a dear friend’s wedding in New York. The next day, that flight ceased to exist. The unthinkable, perhaps inevitable, and irrevocable had occurred. Other countries suffer occasional, even frequent terror attacks, but we’d been free of them for the last 60 years. And then, nothing would be the same after that.

Wondering how it could be that I survived – just by the fate of one day – when others didn’t – glued to the TV’s endlessly looping shocking images, I was torn between wanting to go back to New York, where I’d lived for years, just to know people I loved were okay; and being that relieved to be home, to tell loved ones here – like my mom – that I was fine. To embrace them again, a luxury not everyone could have – I was all too well aware. I nearly lost a good friend, and countless others did lose friends and family on that terrible day.

What followed was like scenes from Dante’s Inferno. Then, our nation’s leaders twisted an outpouring of global goodwill toward our country in time of crisis, exploiting jingoism and xenophobia to entangle America in two wars for a decade and counting, and in doing so doomed (on the American side alone) more than twice the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives in the World Trade Center. The beyond-courageous first responders claimed by politicians during their campaigns were, like the soldiers going to and returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, forgotten and forsaken. Rather than seizing the opportunity to better understand ourselves and our relation to the rest of the world, U.S. intelligence devised a plan for, as the Bush administration echoed when they coined the phrase “War on Terrorism,” a decades-long war. (Veteran activist Tom Hayden wrote an excellent piece about this in this week’s SF Bay Guardian.)

Although it obviously wasn’t written for the occasion, this often-quoted W.H. Auden poem still feels so fitting:

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

…From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die….

Courtesy of NASA

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About thislittleplot

Writer, hiker, loafer
This entry was posted in Family, Literature, Politics, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 9/11 – Ten Years On

  1. Shirley says:

    Wow, that Auden poem is profoundly prophetic. And I can’t imagine being on the flight the day before 9/11. Was it Fate or Luck? The mind reels …

    Thank you for this touching post, and sharing your perspective.

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