Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years On: 9/11 in Two Parts

Part I: The Best of Times. The Worst of Times.

I miss the days and months immediately following September 11th, 2001.

Although it may seem incomprehensible to make such a statement, it's a fact that I have no choice but to own up to. In spite of my belief in man's unparalleled ability to consistently make bad situations worse, I honestly never thought that I'd look back on the initial aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in history and quietly pine for that time. Five years later however -- as we mark the anniversary of 9/11 -- I realize with more certainty than ever before that the violence which claimed so many lives on that day, unwittingly and for a short time created a city, country and world of which I could say that I was proud to be a part.

I admit that I had an often overwhelming front-row seat for the constant display of pain and preseverance by being in New York City following the attack. Covering the story from the area which would in short order become universally known as Ground Zero, and from the Armory at 25th and Lexington -- the area where families of the victims were sent in an often futile and heartbreaking search for answers about their lost loved ones -- gave me a perspective not everyone else may have had. Still, I'm certain that you didn't need to wade knee-deep in the indescribable human suffering to see that an equally indescribable human spirit was also asserting itself -- and proving to be far more powerful than many believed possible.

In those first months after the attack -- a wounded America found its heart and its soul.

We put aside the trivial concerns that divided us; the inane distractions that casually connected us. We were shown in an excruciating way the true meaning and value of words which up until that point had only been used as disposable ad-campaign hyperbole: heroism, compassion, sacrifice, family, strength, unity -- even love. We saw constant displays of these because after all that we witnessed on that day -- after the hideous destruction caused by a few, and the selfless response of so many -- after the bar for human emotion was raised so high, it was almost as if it was our responsibilty to act in kind -- to follow the example set by those who were no longer with us.

We were stripped down to our raw nerve, and in spite of the chaos and terror that caused it, what we found there was beautiful.

The world seemed to follow suit. On September 12th, 2001 -- the morning after the attack -- the headline of France's Le Monde newspaper read "We Are All Americans Now." The crew of a German ship manned the rails when it came alongside an American destroyer -- a show of respect and solidarity. Billions across the planet felt our anguish, believed in the dream that was America, and stood with us.

When we struck back with a mighty fury at those who killed our innocents, our indignation was indeed righteous. Our cause truly was just. We stood together as a country -- political affiliations and personal concerns be damned -- and understood with one mind that this was the way it had to be. We shouted with one voice, "You have unleashed this."

We felt lost, but were comforted in holding on to each other. We were both terrified and fearless. We were powerful in our vulnerability.

It's true that all things are relative, and if the current condition of our country and our world is the yardstick by which we measure the past, then maybe my effusion is somewhat prejudiced -- maybe the past has an unfair advantage; maybe any past would.

I'm not sure that's the case though.

Five years ago, the world changed -- not forever, as was first forecast, but for a short time.

It's that short time that continues to give me faith in us.

It's during that time, when things were at their worst -- that we were at our best.

Part II Tomorrow

7 comments:

Ames said...

"We were shown in an excruciating way the true meaning and value of words which up until that point had only been used as disposable ad-campaign hyperbole: heroism, compassion, sacrifice, family, strength, unity -- even love. We saw constant displays of these because after all that we witnessed on that day -- after the hideous destruction caused by a few, and the selfless response of so many -- after the bar for human emotion was raised so high, it was almost as if it was our responsibilty to act in kind -- to follow the example set by those who were no longer with us."

Chez, I read your blog every day; I found you through fark a few months ago. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I fiercely nod in agreement with your thoughts on the media and the state of our government, sometimes I just enjoy your phenomenal way with words. You have an ability to articulate things I've only felt, frustrated with my lack of words to describe them.

Growing up a liberal in a Republican newspaper family, and my experiences with that newspaper, have left me furious with a media failing its responsibilities. But I read your blog, and am able to regain faith that some in corporate media, at least, still understand the weight of that responsbility, and feel just as frustrated as I at the current state of affairs.

The two sentences I've quoted above struck a deep chord in me and gave me chills. You've explained something I've always wanted to understand but could never quite grasp. I know this is an outlet for you, but I hope you know how much you give to your readers at the same time. I'll be here as long as you are willing to stick it out and put fingers to keyboard.

(and I adore your choices of music!)

Chez said...

Very, very humbled. Thank you.

VOTAR said...

Seriously Chez as I mentioned to you earlier, get your hands on Olberman's editorial from tonight...you guys were channeling each other.

I hope you will get the chance to watch rather than just read the words (and by the way, that goes for ALL OF YOU). What was fucking crystaline in its perfect beauty, is that he delivered it literally 2 minutes before the simulcast of Bush's speech.

We need our radio show back, my friend.

Chez said...

I saw it.

His ferocious brilliance just makes me shake my head and wish that I had half the way with words that he does. Truly one of the few meaningful and important newspeople left in this world.

Murrow would be proud.

Stevie said...

Well I've only been reading you for a few days, finding you randomly stumbling through the 'next blog' facility, and frankly you're one of the few I've read that I've bothered stopping back to.

This is a really well written piece, not dripping in sickly emotive cliches, but genuinely expressing the emotions of a New Yorker.

We were all as one that day. I watched the horror at a TV shop next door to my then office in Guildford, leafy Surrey, here in the UK. Coincidentally as I watched, I was drinking my coffee from a Twin Towers commemorative mug bought from the gift shop at the top, just three weeks before whilst on my honeymoon. I went cold as I was able to vaguely picture the face for a moment of the nameless lady who sold it to me that day, and the realisation hit me that she may well have just died before my eyes. I was a huge distance away, but we really all were as one, if only for a short while.
Keep up the good work.

Not Relaxed said...

Wow, just wow. I actually had to wipe a tear from my right eye just now. Make that two. Thats not the kind of thing I usually admit in a public forum, but that was a powerful post.

If anyone hasn't seen Olbermanns editorial youtube has it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Chez, for this.

I lived in New York then (was a humble NYU student). No one has put into words as accurately and beautifully those unprecedented weeks and months following That Day 5 years ago.

Despite the terrible event that preceded it, that period of time was nothing short of miraculous. I too miss what we knew then. We learned it, and then lost it. I wonder what it would take to get it back.