Living in New Jersey, USA. September of 2001…
This article appeared on the front page of the 9/30/01 issue of the Watsessing Heights Newsletter and was also published on the website, Baristanet, for the 2002 memorial.
By Garine Isassi
From a distance I can see it. There is a hole in the skyline, filled with black smoke. The images on television, as dramatic as they seem, are nowhere near representative of the scale. You would sprain your neck trying to look up at those two towers. It was like looking at the Grand Canyon. They were great, active symbols of American power — ingeniously conceived, skillfully built, ambitiously utilized.
When the towers fell, those responsible thought they had felled the power. How wrong. How misguided. The capability, once contained in those buildings, in those financial and government institutions, is not destroyed in the least. Instead, that grand power is magnified and released.
On this island, glass fell from the sky and we gasped. All the political analysis and world view falls away when you look into the face of a relief worker. The reality of devastation lies there, in his eyes. A tough guy. A fireman. A grown man covered in concrete ash, with sweaty, tangled hair and blistered hands. He is trained as the hero of the civilized world, where he is supposed to rescue the weak from accidents — children, senior citizens, cats. Suddenly, he is thrown into the front line of war.
On a city street, once free and vibrant with people, he sifts through death and debris. He labors to breathe and lift and carry. The bodies he uncovers were strong, healthy, working adults mere hours before. It never crosses his mind that he needs to sleep or eat, until he is ordered to go home. And even as he sits on a train out of the city, he calculates the number of hours until he can get back there to continue the fight for life and a step back to normalcy.
But out of the suffering comes thought. Out of the grief comes indignation. Shock and pain quickly turn to resolve and strength. A government, previously bickering over dimes, now fervently unites. A population, previously nonchalant, patriotically rises.
Fortunately, the complaints that we elect politicians, not leaders, have not come to bear. Within minutes, the target cities were secure. Within hours, the immediate threat subdued. Within days, our FBI and CIA identified the culprits and found leads into their sinister network. The people in place are doing what they are supposed to be doing, what they are trained to do, and what they are elected to do. And through it all is a heightened level of cooperation. This is the true American way.
After living through the past few days, we hold our children tighter. We kiss our lovers longer. We appreciate our own skin more. In every corner of this earth, our unique personal histories become communal. From now on, in the world’s consciousness, there is a ‘before’ and an “after.”
The big question remains: Where will the “after” take us?
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