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Tag Archives: terrorism

On that singular day

I saw Greg Louganis dive in St. Louis
in 1984. Oh, the way he folded and
unfolded in the air. We all gasped
when he split the surface and disappeared.
But he rose up in a shimmering swath
of bubbles, unbounded joy.

Seventeen years later, a man steps out
through the lattice of a skyscraper and
folds himself into a breathtaking pike.
An anonymous diver, abandoning his
day job. Maybe you’ve seen the
photograph? A single body falling, white
oxford full and fluttering, like a peony,
blowsy, on that singular day.

–“The Diver,” Christine Hartzler

Today I am in my late twenties again.

Today I am waking up early in my town in the American southwest to the sound of people shouting on my apartment complex balcony. It is a day I can sleep in. I am working the late shift. I am not pleased to wake up to people shouting this early in the morning. I go out on the balcony and glare at them. They don’t seem to notice. Or care. Even though I’m in my pajamas and my hair is quite fearsome.

Today I am realizing there’s no point in going back to sleep and I might as well run some errands since I have the morning free.

Today I get ready without turning on the television or the radio.

Today I run errands while listening to a tape I have in the car. It’s a Hole kind of day. Courtney Love screams me around town.

Today I still don’t turn on the radio.

Today I get to my old job to help out a little since I’m up early. It is a thing I do, sometimes.

Today I walk in the door and there are people in a tangled knot around the small television in the lobby. The sound is low. No one’s at the front desk.

Today I ask one of my old coworkers what was going on.

Today she turns to me and says, “Two planes flew into the World Trade Center” and her eyes are holes in her face.

Today I ask her, “An accident? There was an accident?”

Today she says, “No. No, Amy, I don’t think so. I think it was on purpose.”

Today I stand in a crowd of people, strangers and friends alike, and we are all as one. Today we watch the television in the lobby and it grows to the size of a movie screen. Today we watch the towers fall. Today we watch news reports come in about the Pentagon. Today we watch news reports come in about a field in Pennsylvania.

Today our hands are over our eyes and our mouths. Today we are sobbing but not making a sound. Today we are praying. Today we are smelling autumn coming in through the propped-open doors of the lobby and we are running through the list of people we know in New York City and we are wondering if they also smelled this autumn morning and we are thinking, were they there? Oh, please, oh, no, oh, God, were they there?

Today I go broken and empty to my afternoon shift at work. My coworker is from Pennsylvania. I am from New York. We are barely holding it together. We are inches from screaming. We are being held together with fraying rubber bands and sheer adrenaline.

Today our boss decides we are not paying enough attention to our job and makes us turn off the television that presides with its cold unfeeling stare over the lobby.

Today we take turns shaking and vomiting and weeping in the bathroom where the clients and our boss can’t see us.

Today I get home from work and turn on the television and watch the ticker of the dead crawl along the bottom of the screen. The channel I’m watching tells the ages of those on the planes. One of the dead is just a baby. I’m having trouble breathing. Functioning. I’m watching the towers fall on endless repeat. I’m watching men leap from windows with a sort of corrupted grace. I am watching survivors painted gray with ashes stream over and over from the city I love so much. I am shaking. I am curled upon myself like a lost child. I am trying to count the dead in the ticker and I keep losing count and it seems very important, somehow, that I know how many of them there were. That each of them are counted. That each of them get given a name; that each of them get given their due.

Today, when my next-door-neighbor comes home, she asks me how I am.

Today, I tell her, “I don’t want to live in this world right now. The good got lost today.”

Today I live all of this all over again. Today and next year and the year after that; every today, I am the person I was on that day.

Today the towers fall, and they fall, and they fall; every today they fall.

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And we always will

sj emailed me yesterday because she knows I can’t check social media while I’m at work. She let me know there’d been two explosions at the Boston Marathon. No real news yet. Reports of possible severed limbs. Chaos.

She knows things like this bother me. She didn’t want me to be blindsided on the drive home, or by one of my coworkers. I love her for that. I love her for being that person for me.

When I got home, I made myself read the reports. Watch the videos. Read my Facebook feed, people who were looking for loved ones in Boston. We’re only two and a half hours from Boston, where I live. I’ve never been, but it’s somewhere I want to visit quite badly. I’ve always wanted to go to Boston. It seems like a magical city to me. And you know how much I love magic.

I noticed what Patton Oswalt did in the videos, in between my sobbing, watching runners falling, tripping over themselves to get away from the noise, the smoke, hearing the screaming start, the faint and horrified “Oh. Oh, oh my God. Oh,” from the newscaster who’d been planning on filming nothing more than the finish line of the marathon for some background footage.

People were running toward the explosion.

People were running toward the explosion even though there could have been more explosions. They didn’t know what had happened. It didn’t matter.

And not running toward the explosion once the screams started, and not running toward the explosion once people started dragging them over, or when people started calling for help. People IMMEDIATELY started running toward the explosion. One man said, in a thick Bawston accent that sounded like the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard in my life, “There are people that are going to need our help over there,” and immediately headed over. He didn’t say it to anyone. There was no one around him. He was saying it to himself. He was telling himself what to do. He was explaining to himself, this is what we do, when we’re needed, because there really isn’t another viable option right now.

And the people, the firemen, the National Guardsmen, the policemen, and the people who were there – runners, bystanders, just everyday people – worked together to pull down the barricades, to make it easier for emergency vehicles and EMTs to get to the wounded. Everyone became a united force. Everyone knew what they had to do. Sadly, it’s become a thing: we have experience with this now. We know what to do when the bomb goes off or the plane crashes or the man with the gun and the dead, dead eyes enters the crowded room. We’ve learned. It’s not something we should have to have learned, but it’s something we collectively have.

The news is still being guarded. By the time you read this, we might know what happened, but for now, people are saying it’s terrorism, and people are saying we don’t know yet. People are saying there’s a subject in custody, people are saying it’s just too soon to say anything. People are saying two more bombs were found before they exploded. People are saying there is video of a man with a backpack leaving the bombs in the area.

People say a lot of things, when these things happen. It’s one of the things that people are good at. We talk because we don’t know what else we can do. We talk because it keeps the gibbering maniacal panic at bay.

But for all of the talking, I like what Patton Oswalt has to say.

There are more of us than there are of them.

There are more of us that run toward the explosions to see what we can do, that hide the children in the cupboards and face the shooter with our hands spread and resolution stubborn in our eyes, that run into the burning building to bring out just one more person, if possible, just one more, just one more.

There are so, so many more of us on this beautiful, amazing, hope-filled planet.

You can see us all around. We’re in the small kindnesses; the letting of people into traffic, the kind smile of a stranger, the holding of a door, the compliment when needed but unanticipated; the bigger ones, the offer to listen, the helping each other up, the thank you for being in my life, the telling someone you love them, no matter what, for always, for forever. The small kindnesses, the bigger ones, the huge heroism. To some people, they are all the same thing. You never know if your kindness, if your hand reaching out for theirs, is the thing that saved someone’s life.

There is a lot of darkness and a lot of sadness out there right now. It’s warranted. It’s a scary time. Every day, something else. Every day, something that seems like one more step on that descent into madness.

When it gets too much, though, look at all the heroes. They’re all around you. They are infinity times infinity and they stretch on forever.

And make damn sure you’re one of them.


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