Monday, May 01, 2006

When Terrorism Hits Home

One of the daunting things about life is the unmanageable aspects of it all. You think you’re in one story but you get thrown into another. I never intended this to be a heavy week, but I got tripped up by the recent terrorist trial, and the Flight 93 movie reviews, and this song about cellphone calls from the World Trade Center.
See, I had my own 9/11 back in 1973 when my best friend got killed in a terrorist attack on a Pan Am plane while it was on the ground at the airport in Rome. Most times it’s just there in the background, or out of sight but every now and then it’s right on the surface again. Something triggers it and away you go. I know after the Pan Am plane blew up over Scotland, I had some bad days. In that one there had been a connection to a university – I believe it was Syracuse – and I just felt so exhausted imagining those kids beginning to deal with losing their classmates like that.
Oh well. I do remember 5 years as being a significant milestone, and it’s interesting that we’re coming up on that time interval with 9/11. I feel so much better for the loved ones knowing they got that first 5 years almost out of the way. I can see them during their interviews – it’s all still there but it’s much more manageable. They seem much more comfortable with the new people they are now. Ahead will come the finality when they can’t imagine being anyone else. That realization is sad in a different way.
The thing about terrorist attacks is that ordinary citizens are suddenly forced into a big, international story. I remember reading about my friend in Newsweek and thinking this can’t be real. The reason this song “If This Is Goodbye” got me is that it is so dead on, although it's a love song rather than about friends. It transcends the stuff you hear on the news, and talks about the real story. The terrorists don’t know the real story - they don't even know what they’ve done, because everyone they’ve killed is a stranger to them. It’s you - the friends and family - who are the only ones who really understand what has happened, because you know who was lost. And right in the middle of it, everything else fades away, and it’s just you and the other person - daughter, son, wife, husband, or in my case, friend. You have that one last communication, even if it's just to the air.
I can still see it so clearly. It was Christmas vacation and I was flying across country to my parents' farm in Massachusetts. When I arrived at Logan Airport in Boston, I went to a payphone and called my Mom to say I had arrived safely. She told me about the attack and that they had heard my best friend had been killed in it. I could tell how much it hurt her to have to tell me that. I hung up and I walked away, but then I stopped and looked back at the phone booth. I wasn’t going to believe it just yet – not 100% - but I spoke directly to my friend and said if this is true, then goodbye. The bigger international aspects of these stories fade away. The real story is all the family and friendships that are torn apart when something like this happens. And the terrorists’ story is just a tiny little blip in the background, accomplishing nothing.


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