(Originally published 9/11/2005 | updated, 9/10/2011)
"The last half of the 20th century will seem like a wild party for rich kids, compared to what's coming now. The party's over, folks. . . [Censorship of the news] is a given in wartime, along with massive campaigns of deliberately-planted "Dis-information". That is routine behavior in Wartime - for all countries and all combatants - and it makes life difficult for people who value real news." ~ Hunter S. Thompson / "When War Drums Roll" 2001
The date that lives in everyone's memory and the beginning of a road traveled by many. Some have seen the signs, taken the detours and some are still blindly on this road. I traveled down it entirely too long.
I do not wish to take away from the tragedy of that day, or forget those who lost so much (and made me realize what I had). I also do not wish to turn this into a 9/11 Truth discussion. There are many things that happened that do not make much sense to me and an independent investigation is warranted, in my opinion. But this isn't what this post is about. This is about buying into the fear that was sold at every turn by an administration and the media after this tragic day.
This was a life altering event...an event that brought out the best of us as citizens; the best in people all over the globe when we were experiencing the unimaginable. What is more unimaginable to me is how people have behaved toward each other since; as if that day never occurred. There is a time to grieve and move on, yes. For the families, it is their time to remember in their own way, heal in their own time. I don't think there is any harm in having public ceremonies but I'm not sure that they need national coverage now. I think we should all remember in our own way. It is as much part of your history as this country's history as it is etched in the history of humanity. Like asking your parents or grandparents where they were the day Kennedy was shot...it changed things for them. It changed a nation. This day is the same, on a global stage...and the history books may not tell the story the way you will ultimately remember it. (At least, American history books...)
My story begins with a trip in the way-back machine. Many events had occurred in my life before that historic Tuesday morning and in many ways, were still unfolding in small increments. Each day was a new challenge and I was trying my best to believe that each day was a gift. Many of life's changes are painful - when you're in them, they can seem excruciating. You can't stop them from coming - but the pain eventually is forgotten and the lessons learned are carried forward into the next inevitable change.
It is the only constant - so you learn to realize you have two choices. Crawl in a hole and quit or stand up and meet them. [Often, the biggest challenge is to meet them gracefully.]
My best and dearest friend passed away in 1997 from suicide and dealing with that in itself took its toll over subsequent years, especially with life changes to come. The betrayal of a husband, once a friend who then became a stranger to me and others who knew him. This separation directly effected my plan to take care of my grandmother and I had to move out of her house...in so doing, losing the opportunity to buy the house (the family home), the house she wished us to have. I could not have accomplished this purchase on my own, so I had to leave that dream behind. This broke my heart more than the spouse ever did. My grandmother passed soon after I moved out on my own...starting again as a single mom at 33.
Needless to say, I had a lot on my plate and it was a challenge to keep ahead of the curve and keep sanity at the same time. Friends helped as much as they could; family as well. Still, when you are dealing with so much, you tend to lay low and lick your wounds to recoup for another day...or for the next chapter of your life to begin. Without my best friend and my significant other lost to me, recouping was a daunting task. I cried many tears on many nights...
Initially, living on my own with my daughter was doable on my 'part time/close to full time as you can get' hours at a nonprofit. We didn't spend a lot on frivolities but we managed to entertain ourselves on a budget. There was always food on the table and bills were met every month, for a time. We had our reading nights, video game nights and my piecemeal PC, as nickel and dime as it was, kept us entertained. And of course, ultimately, we had each other. Television consisted of maybe 5 channels, the bunny ears leaving arched scratches on the walls for the span of our 6 year stay there. It offered very few choices.
No high speed internet (remember dial-up? *shudder*) and no cable. It took me a few years to break down and get a DVD player because I dragged heels on paying to repurchase on DVD, movies that I already owned on VHS. The only other toy in our sanctuary was my first digital camera and scanner, a gift from my parents for my birthday - which rekindled my affair with photography. Back then, it nourished my soul when it was most needed...and it gave me a voice I'd forgotten I had.
Time passed slowly and wounds healed at the same pace. I found that I had opportunities to travel after a year of saving a little aside and I gave myself permission to go to places that I'd always wanted to see. I went to DC for the first time in the summer of 2001...
I can't tell you how inspired I was to be in such a place. I was spellbound by the history seeping out of the buildings and parks on the mall to the alleys of Georgetown. I was overwhelmed when I visited the Library of Congress and fell in love at the National Gallery. So much so that I spent two of my four days within its walls.
I was drunk and dizzy with visions of Monet and Rembrandt. I was stunned to be allowed so close to these works, as much as a nose length away so that I could see the brushstrokes. Every room I went into, I saw another painting that I had only known from a photo in a book. Monet's Lilies, big as life in front of me and I was awestruck. Out another passage and down the hall and there she was...
Flaming June, one of my favorite paintings by Frederic Leighton. She was visiting the National Gallery at the same time. You literally could have mopped me off the floor...I couldn't stop the tears welling up, I was so moved. A female security guard walking past me asked, "Your first time here?" All I could do was smile and nod.
When I returned home from that trip, I was different. I felt renewed, inspired and humbled. It was a giant exhalation and release of old for new. I had taken over 300 pictures in 4 days and I found myself researching DC every time I was online. I knew I would go back and didn't want to wait too long to return. I also found myself watching more news. I was an 'election result' junkie before then and watched the nightly news on a regular basis. I enjoyed catching glimpses of the monuments and the lights on the reflecting pool. In my mind, this place belonged to me, just as it belongs to all of us. Perhaps that sounds naive and in hindsight, I know there was a level of innocence there. Not all of that has been lost...it's just different.
"Never turn your back on fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed." ~ Hunter S. Thompson
I remember September 11th, 2001, a Tuesday morning; like it was yesterday.
I was off work and my then boyfriend had stayed over. We were having coffee and doing the crossword while watching the Today show. Early reports about the first plane; possible pilot heart attack, small aircraft...all speculative. I returned from the kitchen after starting another pot of coffee and saw the second plane hit. Matt Lauer spoke what was in my thought bubble, "That was intentional."
I forgot everything in that moment. I forgot the coffee, the crossword, the bills, the plans I'd made that day. I was hardly aware that my boyfriend was sitting next to me. I forgot that I was pissed off about not getting my 'child tax credit', I forgot that I was angry that Bush was elected. I forgot everything unimportant in the moments following when I witnessed the horror of the first tower falling. What I did remember was everything that was most important to me...and I remember sobbing uncontrollably.
After I regained composure, I called my daughter's school to find out what was happening there. She was the only person on the planet that I wanted to see and to be with in that moment. The school was on lock down and they were waiting to see what plan, if any, would be put in action to get the students home. I was not able to pick her up and I was imagining the panic of the other parents at home, and at work, wondering the same thing. I called as many people as I could think to call, just to hear their voices and know they were okay. I didn't leave the television or that front room for the majority of that day. (It is quite possible that I didn't leave the apartment much that week unless it was for work or necessity.)
That day, I told my boyfriend I loved him. It came out naturally. It did not occur to me that anything I said that day would be considered inappropriate...it just mattered to me that he knew. It didn't matter whether he said it in return or not, I wanted to say what I felt because for the second time in my life, since my best friend had passed, I realized with a jolt - life really is too fucking short not to say what you feel.
It is hard for me to look back on that day now without being angry. I have to admit a thought that entered my mind then, that if anyone should be in charge of this country at this moment in time, I was glad it was George W. I remember thinking, naively, he would take care of who did this...he would take care of business. Little did I know at the time - that was all he would take care of. In the year following this tragedy, more stories unfolded about the people who lost their lives, the people who saved lives and those who survived. Unfortunately, there were other 'stories' that I bought into...a lot of us did.
I wasted precious time in my life being afraid because I bought the fear the government was selling and the media was distributing. I was vulnerable before that day...and after being gripped by tragedy beyond my own...I again became vulnerable to the machine of fear.
A machine that was just ramping up and getting started...its sights set on bulldozing ideas and reason.
10 years later. I thought I would see a day where I would no longer be haunted by that fear. It has morphed into an urgency - one that can only be managed by writing and sharing information. My concerns now are not what they tell us we should be concerned about, but the things they do not tell us and should. What has been seen cannot be unseen.
I don't recognize my country anymore than I used to recognize journalism and hold it in high regard. Perhaps it was naive to think I recognized either. Over these 10 years, I have coveted Hunter S. Thompson's work and have been told on more than one occasion that my style of political writing was comparable. Which humbles (and tickles) me because his humor was a powerful salve throughout the Bush years...and still is today.
I often wonder what Hunter S. Thompson would have to say if he were with us but I've come to understand why he is not here. In my mind, he did not die a coward's death - he bravely gave us his best during the worst moments in political history this country had ever witnessed.
Worst until now.
It was better to see Doc go out like a samurai rather than die of a broken heart. But there is a part of me that imagined him taking some of the greedheads along in a final blaze of inebriated glory. Then again, those who know his work (on both sides of the political aisle) know that he had more class than that - even at his worst, he was better than politics and journalism now touts as it's best.
"Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism." - Hunter S. Thompson
The Doc was right. But after ten years, that's about the only tide I'm beginning to see turn for the better. The ship of professional journalism is being scuttled alongside the Titanic failure of government. For many witnessing it, there's nothing left but to build grassroots media and political movements or sink quietly into the watery grave of fascism.
In honor of the good Colonel Thompson, I say let's build and man the lifeboats...with Jolly Rogers flying...and let the good times roll.
Tell the establishment to keep their 'change'.
BE the change.