The Stories

This weekend marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that leveled the World Trade Center Twin Towers in NYC and destroyed part of the Pentagon building in Washington D.C.  Nineteen Al-Qaeda terrorists on a suicide mission hijacked four large jets – two from American Airlines and two from United Airlines – and essentially used them as giant bombs by flying three of the four of them into those buildings.

In the process they killed 2977 people, left well over 25,000 others with permanent injuries and cost the United States over $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage.  This is not to mention the many billions more – actually many trillions more – spent over the last two decades on various wars overseas.

Names and flowers remain

Also, let’s not forget that among the dead that day were 344 firefighters and 70 plus police officers that ran directly into the wreckage in order to do their jobs (Note: There were probably more than that). 

And all of the collateral destruction created by all of the above. 

One of those is the fate of the fourth jetliner, whose passengers presumably revolted against the hijackers and crashed their plane into a field in Pennsylvania rather than have themselves be crashed into either the White House or Capitol building, their jet’s presumed target.

United 93 Memorial Site in Shanksville, PA

These are the facts, though they do little to truly explain the magnitude of this one event and the reverberation it’s had over the last two decades.

That’s the way it is with seminal tragedies, whether they be international news or merely personal in nature.

When they’re both, well, it’s that much more difficult.

We each find our way to put events in perspective (Note: Or we never do), create some kind of order and hopefully move forward.  There is no right or wrong way to do this and, ultimately none of them ever feel adequate or quite enough.

Wall to wall American flags, or not. (Toby Keith concert, 2002)

Undoubtedly this is why a personal informal survey I took of how others feel about the events of the 20th anniversary 9/11 memoriam/hoopla is unsurprising.

Some say they are avoiding everything because it’s too upsetting, too commercialized and far too reductive. 

Others believe to turn one’s back and not watch, get involved or at least donate to some worthy cause is selfish, disloyal and/or just plain emotionally bankrupt.

And then there is the largest middle group that feels a little of each and thus indulge in some small or large part of all the hoopla and memories.  If you’re in that crowd, as I am, maybe you leave with some new perspective or call to action.  Or perhaps you emerge sadder, angrier or more confused than ever.

Until a few minutes, hours or days go by and your life resumes pretty much the way that it was because, well, it sort of has to.

Only memories now remain

Though if you believe we are all an accumulation of our experiences and change happens only when you reach a tipping point in certain areas you can’t accurately say that time doing anything is wasted.

At least that’s what I tell myself.  And it makes me feel better. 

Momentarily.

It is both correct and cliché to proclaim and/or embrace 9/11 bromides like – the world was forever changed or we will never be the same or America was united on 9/11 and we need to remember that in these divided timesdespite the urge to either dismiss any or all of the above as merely clichés and hollow expressions or laud them as aptly inspiring lessons of both the political and social kind.

Which kind of brings us back to where we were the day after 9/11 happened and the week before the 20th anniversary happened.  Leading us to ask the question:

Have we really learned anything at all and, if we haven’t, what is the point of even thinking about this?

We have to learn from this

This week I watched Spike Lee’s excellent documentary series on HBO, NYC Epicenters 9/11 – 2021 ½, which covers the historical significance of tragedies like 9/11 and the COVID 19 pandemic;the wordy but telling Netflix drama, Worth, starring Michael Keaton, about government payouts to 9/11 families;and the rousingly watchable film of the Broadway musical, Come From Away, inspired by the true life story of the 38 planes diverted out of airspace for five days on 9/11 to a tiny Canadian town on the tip of Newfoundland, Gander.

Each work to various effects on their own terms and prove compelling and even funny in surprising and unexpected ways.  But none of them make even a slight dent in telling the enormity of the 9/11 story because, well, how could they?

No one thing will ever tell that story and no single story or group of stories can ever live up to the task. 

Must sees

This is because when it comes to seminal events in personal and/or human histories the stories are infinite and never-ending.  It’s why the Shoah project came to be in 1994 to account for the Holocaust after thousands of stories about the extermination of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis had already been told.  And it’s the reason why new ones are to this day being unearthed and will continue to be accounted for long after Shoah.

You never know what is new for whom and how it is going to resonate for which audience to come.

That point came into focus when during the seemingly endless coverage on Saturday two newscasters Zoom interviewed Joe Dittmar, a 9/11 survivor.  Mr. Dittmar, who worked in insurance, happened to be in NYC on business that day on the 105th floor of the South Tower when the first plane hit the North Tower.

His visitor badge

Like many others, he decided to immediately evacuate via the stairs.  But by the time he got down to the 78th floor he decided he would continue down the stairs rather than take the plaza level elevators that were now an option because he thought, as an insurance guy, the stairs seemed the better choice.

That and, despite the efficiency of the elevators, per various people around him who worked in the Tower and knew the building.

So Dittmar continued down the seemingly endless stairway and, when he got between floors 74 and 73 , the second plane crashed though floors 77 and 83 of the South Tower, the building HE was in.  Or more to the point, trying to vacate.

The crash instantly eviscerated the people and everything else between floors 77 and 83; ensured those situated above it were sitting duck prisoners of fate; and allowed many of those just below it, including Dittmar, to make their way to safety.

When asked if he wondered what would have happened if he didn’t make the split second decision he did and instead chose the elevator, he replied he didn’t have to wonder at all.  If he chose differently —

I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you now.

His survival is a miracle

What he primarily learned from that experience,  he said, was to always live that day and to never expect anything. 

There were no what ifs, no oh my god, life hangs in the balance and EVERY decision IS IMPORTANT, HELP, and nothing to the effect of, I happened to get lucky but I’m not smarter than anyone else.

This guy wasn’t a philosophizer.  He had, in very plain and simple terms, lived to become a realist.

On this “very special”9/11 anniversary there were a lot of unique photo ops, political speeches, expert talking heads tackling the events of the last 20 years from various angles and, most of all, a fine solo performance from Bruce Springsteen of a song he wrote last year about loss, I’ll See You In My Dreams, at the site of the attacks.

They all worked fine.

But the average Joe put it into perspective for me in a way no one else could.  And in a lot less time.

Come from Away – “Welcome to the Rock”

You’re Not the Boss of Me

Ah, but sometimes we are the bosses of you. 

There is not, nor has there ever been, complete liberty, even in democratic countries like the United States. 

Laws based on common sense, which are then exacted by the majority rule of our democratically elected representatives, govern us.  We might not agree with all of them but that’s the deal that we make to keep the society functioning. 

You might not always like each decision, but who gets 100% of what they want all the time except spoiled five-year olds?

… and we know how that worked out for Veruca

This has worked generally, though imperfectly, for almost 250 years in the U.S.  But for it to continue working there needs to be a baseline of accepted reality and logic based on science and empirical evidence.

When we disagree on what is real we’re Alice stuck in Wonderland.  We’re on a bad LSD trip with the Jefferson Airplane as White Rabbit plays in the background. (Note:  Ask your parents, or grandparents (!). Or better yet here)

I feel attacked.

And as the song and the book warn, WE are the only ones who can save us.  And the way we do it is through – guess what – information, learning, reasoning and logic.

When we can’t decide on what is logical, and conclude nothing is a fact and everything is subject to debate, trouble ensues.   

You can begin to wonder whether what you’re reading right now is a blog from an overly opinionated fellow or truly the rantings of a literal Chair; the cousin of that piece of furniture you sit on in your kitchen that has suddenly come to life and figured out a way to type words into your inboxes via your social media platform of choice.

Well, it COULD HAPPEN!

Readers… maybe we should talk

Yes, for some this IS a gray area and reality is that dubious. 

Imagine literally witnessing a savage crowd of people bloodily invade your place of business with battering rams, knives and military grade weapons one day and yet somehow decry days later, and in all seriousness, that this was a non-threatening group of peaceful protesters.

Up CAN be down and Down certainly, possibly and probably/actually IS Up.

k byeeee

Though we can take it a bit further.

You live in a magic kingdom where life is good, or at least tolerable.  But one day a swarm of invisible locusts come in and begin poisoning, killing and maiming your fellow citizens and, as a result, systematically destroy everything good, or at least tolerable, in life as you knew it.

But one day the kingdom’s sorcerers huddle and discover…all you have to do to save yourself from these deadly invisible locusts, ALL you have to do, is endure one teeny, tiny needle prick from the spindle of a spinning wheel available to EVERYONE in order to save yourself and EVERYONE in the kingdom.

And vanquish the invisible locusts 4EVER.

Bonus beauty sleep!

Yet — guess what?

At least 40% of your kingdom REFUSES to get pricked.  Not only that, they’d rather watch themselves and their children get maimed and/or DIE rather than shed a droplet of blood from the prick, or endure the subsequent scab that might form and then drop off a week later at the prick site.

Their reasons boil down to this.  You can’t tell them ANYTHING because one of the tenets of this kingdom is they are free to do precisely what they want, when they want. 

Even though this has never been true.

Awww you thought you were free, that’s cute

In fact, we all know this is not true, since in one of the small kingdom villages an edict was just this past week written that proclaims NO female of child-bearing age shall have a choice in deciding how, when or if they choose to become a mother once they’ve engaged in a sexual escapade.

It makes no difference if a male relative forced the escapade and themselves on that young female while they were in high school or junior high school.  And it is especially immaterial if the escapade was simply unplanned or happened in a way the female had not intended it.

Despite all the safe and effective options offered by the sorcerers who created the locust-neutering potion for them not to be a mother, NO VILLAGE FEMALE of ANY AGE gets to make THAT decision for themselves. Ever again!

That, and a lot more, is now dictated by their mostly MALE ELDERS.

So this…

Those mostly male elders so know best and are so bent on having their way that they have even provided a foolproof means of enforcement. 

Any villager suspicious of any young women bent on disobeying this new rule can report her and her enablers and in return will now receive a small pocketful of gold coins for turning them in.  That is if they can offer minimal proof of her or their intentions in the Town Square before a panel full of random (ahem) mostly male. elders.

And this? great.

With locusts running rampant in the village, gold is scarce and the majority of the villagers are preoccupied with surviving.  

To give them some credit, even illogical chumps the likes of those mostly male elders know how to seize an opportunity when they see it and make it appear golden.

Or as someone once wrote in another magic-thinking kingdom that was once governed by reality and logic for almost 250 years:

Even a broken clock can be right twice a day.

Unfortunately, that kingdom hasn’t existed as such for decades.  It devoured itself whole despite having access to every possible foodstuff in the universe.  That is because it preferred the taste of its fellow citizens’ blood and marrow to that of a simple hamburger or pizza slice at its once deliciously mundane and safe local food court.

Jefferson Airplane – “White Rabbit” (with clips from Alice in Wonderland)