Sunday, September 10, 2006

My Own Private 9/11

Today I'm going to bring back the column I wrote for the Portland Tribune the afternoon of 9/11. It even mentions the 5 year mark. See, 28 years before our national tragedy, I had my own private terrorist incident, so I've been working through some of these issues for a long, long time. One of the frustrating things for me since 9/11 happened, is watching America go through some of the darker stages I went though years ago. It's very tricky when you're full of that kind of hurt and rage. It's hard not to do things you'll regret later. America had the means to react - I didn't - but if you had put me in a room with the terrorists right after they killed my friend, and they were detainees, it probably would have been gruesome. Just knowing that is a horrible feeling.

We all deal with death in our lives, but it is a whole different situation when another human kills someone you love. It's extremely wretched. Terrorism can turn you violent. It can also break your spirit, and destroy your love of humanity. It can even make you hate yourself, which sounds strange, but believe me, it's true. I hated the new version of me after this happened, and part of the long term recovery is learning to forgive yourself. I know that doesn't make any sense to many of you right now, but it might in a couple of decades when we deal with this part of American History. We're only at the 5-year mark, but since we are, I want to focus on the immediate friends and family of the 9/11 dead:

Congratulations. You made it this far. I remember when Lockerbie happened, I wanted to tell those college students who lost classmates what to expect, including the best news of all: It will get better, and you won't be stuck in this ugliness for the rest of your life. That is not apparent in the first few years. In a weird way, that's why I'm happy this morning, although I do note it's 4:40 a.m. so some deep emotions are still lurking around. I'm happy because tomorrow the loved ones of the people lost in 9/11, hit the 5-year mark in their long journey. That is significant. Something like this is on you so fierce that it takes 5 years before you can even begin to get out from under it. Actually, you never really get out from under it - you just move up through it as it becomes part of you. That's also tricky.

I see progress on the faces of the friends and the 9/11 Widows Club. These 5 years have passed. There will still be isolated times ahead when it all hits again, but the intervals apart will continue growing. Someday - and this is going to sound strange - you'll think about the situation and smile. It may be too soon to suggest that, but you'll smile just at being alive and unpolluted again. The important thing is that the first year when every moment feels horrible, has come to an end, and now you're even farther along. 5 years - Congratulations, the worst is over. So here goes my column written - with my original title - on the afternoon of 9/11 and printed that Friday in the Portland Tribune:

I remember exactly where I was when I became someone else. It was in a phone booth at Logan Airport in Boston. My Mom had just told me that my best friend and a bunch of returning students from my town, had been in a terrorist attack on a Pan Am jet at the airport in Rome, Italy. It was December 17th, 1973 and I was 19 years old. Reports were still coming in, but by the time I reached the farm in Massachusetts, it was clear that the initial story was true: a group of terrorists had stormed the plane and tossed two phosphorous bombs into a cabin full of passengers. My friend was indeed dead, and I was walking down the driveway, crying and kicking big clumps of snow as hard as I could.
His name was Walker Heywood and we had been best friends since 6th grade. Rock and roll band mates, scuba-diving partners, you name it. He would always get the prettiest girls in our class, and I was the sidekick. That is until the band took off and all of us began having fun. Heck, I had my first-ever drink with the guy in Berlin, Germany on one of our insane, back-to-boarding-school blow-outs.
The attack happened later, when he was at Stanford. Just another straight-A student with a great sense of humor and personality for days. You know, your basic kid with nothing to live for.
If my parents had been home in Arabia, I might conceivably have been on the Christmas group charter myself, but they were on vacation in the States, which is what led me to that phone booth in Boston. The place where I ceased being the original me.
That’s what happens during one of these things. You become someone else. The river of your soul becomes horribly polluted, and you can’t imagine it ever clearing up again. That alone changes you. I remember writing: “I was a different person then, he’s your friend, not mine. He’s fading from my memory as the time goes by.” So along with grieving for the people who die, you’re also grieving for your former self. Sure, you miss them, but you also miss you.
See, it’s difficult dealing with the knowledge that other humans would go so far out of their way to hurt someone this bad. Accidents are tough enough, but it’s different when it’s murder. There are long stretches where you have to deal with ugly thoughts of your own. I remember just wondering what I was supposed to do. Take revenge? Track these people down?
Then it becomes a long, never-ending process of trying to heal. I remember after 5 years, I began to think I was getting over it. I wouldn’t try to tell anyone this too soon, but 10 or 20 years into it, you’ve got to explore the concept of forgiveness. Otherwise, the terrorists really do win.
Last Tuesday was unusually horrible, but whenever I hear about these things I become exhausted. It’s from thinking of all the loved ones just taking their first steps out of their own version of the phone booth. It’s from thinking of each person who’s just beginning a long, new journey as someone else.


At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless you McD.

Your rubberband brother.


At 5:56 PM, Blogger Tahoma Activist said...

Nice post, Bill. Seems to me that murder is one of those crimes that you can never really get past, unless you can let go of the need for "justice".

Justice for the victims of 9/11 can never really be won, because the conspirators are so damn powerful. They have the media wrapped around their little fingers, they have Democratic Senators and even guys like Ed Schultz keeping the truth from the masses, and they have all the power of the NSA and the CIA to put you down if you get too effective at exposing their crimes.

Think about the JFK murder. 300 people who were witnesses to the event or to the conspiracy were killed in mysterious circumstances in just ten years. And yet the movement to uncover the truth lives on.

I'm so sorry you lost someone close to you. Sadly, terrorism will probablty always be with us - for as long as colonizers control the choicest land for themselves and throw the poorest among us to the wolves, there will be resistance, and sadly, some of that resistance will target civilians.

Maybe someday we will wake up from our collective unconsciousness and throw these bums in prison, and start over with a real democracy.

Until that day, keep on keeping on, and know that sooner or later, some of our brothers and sisters will die a senseless death, for some unwinnable position in some neverending war. It may be depressing, but it's the way the powers that be have decided to keep it rolling.

Power to the People!


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