Saturday, September 11, 2004

9/11: thoughts and confessions three years later

It was a little before 9 AM, three years ago this morning, when the phone rang.

I'd been asleep on the sofa in the living room of my apartment, still groggy from the night before: September 11th was the day Lucasfilm was lifting the media embargo on their upcoming DVD release of Star Wars Episode I. The whole staff of TheForce.net had been up 'til about 3 that morning (US Eastern Time... TFN's staff was spread all over the world) getting stories and graphics ready to publish for the big day, including editor Joshua Griffin's report from Skywalker Ranch (he got to see George Lucas in person... lucky guy :-) With that work behind me and only going into work at Best Buy that afternoon to really look forward to, I was contentedly crashed until getting up to answer the phone.

It was Mom.

"Are you watching television?" I told her no, that this was the first time I'd been up all morning. "Well turn it on, a plane just hit the World Trade Center!"

Accident. That's the first thing that popped into mind. A plane crashed into the side of the Empire State Building back in the Forties after all. Hey, giant tall things sticking up in the air like that, planes coming in and out of the nearby airports every minute... it had to happen sooner or later, right?

"It hit one tower then just a few minutes later ANOTHER plane hit the OTHER tower!"

Now, that's no accident.

I called my landladies to see if they were watching this, then dialed into the net and started talking over AOL Instant Messenger to Ed, my old college roomie who was at work. The way my desk was situated, I had to turn my head somewhat to the right to look at the television. And then about 10 o'clock (screen names changed)...

Chris: was taking a nap this morning: it was a big night for TFN, we had our TPM DVD coverage. i was taking a nap when Mom called and said to watch this
Chris: now reporting a car bomb exploded outside the State Dept. building
Ed: yeah, I had heard something right before I came back to my office...
Chris: the WTC towers are leaning to one side now
Chris: one might collapse entirely
Ed: I had heard that they have already collapsed...or at least the top sections had
Ed: but I am watching the CSpan feed and wondering why there are so many stupid people in this country
Chris: they're "sheeple"
Chris: they think and say just as they're told to say
Chris: what the...
Chris: ummm did i miss something just now?
Ed: what are you talking about?
Chris: wasn't there a tower there just a few seconds ago?
Ed: *nod* the live feed on CSpan just showed it collapse....like the implosions I have seen on TV..
Chris: i mean... all i'm seeing now is
Ed: the top just fell onto the rest of the building and it went down...
Chris: Ed... oh holy [expletive], smoke's going ALL over the city
Ed: *nod*
Chris: man this is too much. i've never said "f" like that before
Chris: holy [expletive]
Chris: it's...
Chris4: Ed are you seeing this?
Chris: we just saw the World Trade Center... just go
WeirdEd007: *nod*

Don't normally use expletives like that... but then nothing was exactly "normal" that morning, was it? My entire day was spent watching coverage, along with just about everyone else on the planet with a television. Also called my girlfriend to make sure she was okay (a few hours later they cancelled classes at University of Georgia where she was a grad student at).

Was so glued to the set that I didn't want to leave for work but I'm glad now that I did: I needed to get away, get my mind on other things. It didn't help that from 5 until 10 that night we had probably less than 20 customers total who came into the store at all and my department - computers and accessories - saw only two.

I got home, called Lisa again and spoke with her for awhile, then got back on with AOL IM. My best friend Chad was online, under other circumstances he would have been doing news for Sports Illustrated's website at the CNN Building in Atlanta. Tonight they had nothing to report, so we spent the next several hours - until about 1 the following morning - sharing stories from that day, sending links to newspapers that were running extra editions... and talking about a lot of things.

It was a day that's been burned into my mind to be sure. Even now, three years later, I can remember everything about what happened from that morning when Mom called.

A few months later I asked Lisa to marry me. That had been planned out for months anyway, but seeing as how 9/11 affected everyone on some level... I must admit that being confronted with that magnitude a scope on human mortality made me want to spend the rest of my life with her that much moreso. And in a way it was my - ours, rather - way of affirming that life goes on. That we have to still live and love... and laugh, despite circumstances.

And I'm ready to share this much also now: when I proposed to Lisa the way that I did on TheForce.net website, that had been an idea in my mind for three months before 9/11. The attacks made me want to pull off that stunt even more... and you know why? Because I knew that people - a LOT of people, I was praying - would find that to be funny! They would be laughing at this geek with a lightsaber who was proposing to his girlfriend ("Geeks have girlfriends?!" someone asked) over the Internet. Now, do YOU think that the sight of a Star Wars fan proposing with a lightsaber is hilarious? 'Cuz I thought so, and so did Chad when I shared my thoughts with him on it: he said "yeah they'd laugh, that'd be a real trip!"

When Chad says something is "a real trip", that means it's golden.

We didn't have enough things to laugh about in the weeks following 9/11. I wanted to give everyone something to laugh at, and I wasn't afraid to use myself to make it so. Because I was going to be laughing at myself too. And hey, she did say "yes" after that lil' stunt (and a few other things that happened on our side of the monitor... but that's for another day's post): far from being the "revenge of the nerd", doesn't the notion of the geek getting the girl warm the cockles of your heart a bit? I wasn't afraid to do any of that, so long as I believed that people left the sight of that smiling just a bit more than they had before.

That was how I ultimately reacted to 9/11: it was as much an act of defiance against those who would take our joy away from us, as it was the first step on a new path my life would soon be taking.

But in the three years since 9/11, I can't help but believe that we haven't been defiant enough as a people.

We made a mistake in the days following 9/11: we let our government direct the course of our national anger, instead of letting we as the American people be angry on our own. And in doing so we let this government build up and then play off of our fears. Since 9/11 I've watched practically every part of the Bill of Rights trampled into irrelevance because of the PATRIOT Act or some sly judicial ruling that was demanded by the executive branch. I've seen old people manhandled at airports, ordinary citizens afraid to speak out on something because they're afraid of being turned in to Homeland Security (as fascist a name for an agency as is likely to be), debate stifled, people with legitimate reasons for dissent bullied and even arrested for their beliefs, and just about everything else that my teachers told me years ago only went on in the Soviet Union. "It can't happen here," they told me.

It's happening here. Now. Every day since 9/11, because though I cannot find any reason to believe that anyone in our own government was complicit in it happening, it happened to have opened the window for things being done to this country that had long only existed as the envisioned designs of evil men.

I'm not a liberal, or even really a conservative. My vote won't be going to either Kerry or Bush this November: it won't be Kerry because I'm very strongly against abortion, and because of some other issues. But at least Kerry hasn't actively demonstrated that he's willing to embrace the tactics of a fascist state to be in power. How then, as a Christian and a historian and an American, can I cast my vote for Bush either?

I want my country back, the way it was before 9/11. Any less than that is giving those who attacked us that day even more than anything they could have imagined in their wildest dreams.

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