Gallstone #23

Sep 18 2001

This rant is pure catharsis for me. Sympathize, call me self-indulgent, shitcan it, whatever. I think I'm really writing it for me, so by the time you're reading it, it will have served its purpose.
So, here we are a week after the WTC attacks. The 11th was my birthday- worst birthday ever. It's safe to say, for all the wrong reasons, that much of the world will remember my birthday forever. I used to rib my best friend about his birthday- April 20 , the same as Adolf Hitler and also the date of the Columbine shootings. Looks like it's his turn to taunt me a little.

I'm fairly isolated from any intimate personal tragedy or loss stemming from the event. Within hours, everyone I know in NYC or Washington, and everyone who may have been flying on one of the downed planes, was present and accounted for. As it turns out, I know of a few people who narrowly escaped death in NYC, and I know some people who know some people who are (politely put) still missing. But I still hurt, and several times a day I find myself stunned into paralysis by feelings of grief and loss and anger and worry. Since I'm fairly compassionate toward individuals and callous toward humanity in general, I find myself shocked at how shocked I have felt. I thought I was tougher.

I can't stop watching cable news. It makes me hurt, and it makes me scared, and it's all I want to do. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting over the shock of the whole heinous tragedy, and then some little factoid or video clip brings it right back to me and cripples me again in a flood of conflicting feelings. 300 "missing" firemen. The physician rolling his vidcam as day turns to night in the wake of the first collapse. A little list of names of hijackers, less than 20 of them, who destroyed billions of dollars of real estate and thousands of lives with fucking box cutters. The fireman with the stars-n-stripes bandanna, weeping over his missing colleagues even as he drags his spent body to its feet for more digging. The man who rode the building down during the collapse from the 83rd floor, to emerge with only a few broken bones. Our wooden president struggling to find the right words when there aren't any. I can't stop watching. I haven't seen anything new in two days, but I'm still watching.

We're also hearing from people who actually escaped the buildings, and from people who averted certain death by quirky twists of fate. Each tale is mortifying. Now multiply that by several thousand, for every such story is equally gripping. Also try to get in the shoes of the tens of thousands of people whose husbands/wives/sons/daughters/uncles are lying crushed & buried under thousands of tons of rubble. All the kings horses are going to be a few more weeks sifting through the rubble for the lost people. What unspeakable terror gripped the plane passengers as they lost control of their lives? I can only imagine what it must feel like, that last 20 or 30 minutes of each flight, knowing your fate is in the hands of someone who places exactly zero value on your life. I keep feeling a tiny sliver of their grief & horror and it is interfering with my daily function. Do I need to do this? Is it part of grieving? I don't know; I just can't stop.

I'm tired of hearing from various know-it-alls that this attack was hardly a surprise. Hearing "I told you so" only deepens the feelings that have left me in tears several times recently. If all these pontificating jackasses felt like this atrocity was coming down the pipe, why didn't anyone do anything useful instead of waiting around for a chance to be smug? Fuck. Blow it out your ass and spare me your wisdom, OK? Jerk yourself off at home instead of on TV or the internet or in my emailbox. Your armchair hindsight won't change the past or the future, but it will offend & disgust me.

Despite my anger towards the talking heads who say we had it coming, I find myself feeling guilty about participating in American society. A large part of the world hates us, and sometimes for good reason, and I'm unwittingly part of what they hate. I have great disdain for our vapid mainstream values; I don't wear trendy clothes or buy Backstreet Boys CDs or watch stupid television shows or stuff my face with candy bars and Big Macs. I don't drive an SUV through the city with a phone in one hand and Starbucks in the other. But I'm here, making money and wanting more and adding fuel to the big American greed machine that plunders the rest of the world for its own comfort.

Yesterday I went grocery-shopping and when I got home I chucked about a dozen plastic bags into the trash. Plastics are made from petroleum, and our interest in the Middle East is based on petroleum, and our actions in the Middle East ultimately provoked this terrorism, so I wondered how much plastic I would have to chuck into a landfill to be mathematically 'responsible' for one death at the World Trade Center. A couple months ago we bought some crappy little end-tables from Wal-Mart. I was pleased because they were real wood and reasonably priced. After unpacking & assembling them, I noticed on the box that they were made in Malaysia. Shit. That means now my cordless phone sits on a piece of the rainforest, just like millions of other cordless phones in America. We're pumping oil to make disposable plastic bags, and we're razing the rainforest to make tables for our phones. I didn't hijack those planes, or fund the operation, or train any pilots, but I feel like I have some blood on my hands just by being a lazy selfish American. It's a sickening thought that I can't escape.

The endless rumor-mongering & speculation since the attack have led me to better understand the pandemonium following JFK's assassination. On the eleventh, when planes were still in the air, it was widely reported that one had crashed into Camp David. On Wednesday the 12th, I heard that bin-Laden was offering his blood for use in DNA testing to prove his innocence. How absurd is that? Now I wonder if there was any conspiracy at all in Dallas in 1963; maybe it was just a bunch of slap-happy pundits & journalists making shit up every few seconds.

Along the conspiracy vein, the mind wanders as well. The identities of the hijackers seem to have fallen into the investigators' hands quite quickly. Was it a deliberate trail of disinformation left behind to frame bin-Laden? Who would profit from this? Iraq? The Northern Alliance? Would anyone in Washington DC let themselves slack off just long enough for this to happen, subconsciously understanding its value as a tool of policy? Already the intelligence & justice communities are hollering for new laws to make them more powerful, and I think Bush just found a great way to spend that Social Security surplus that's been nagging at him. These lines of thinking are pure folly, if for no other reason than we would never be allowed to know the truth about such events.

Something has been notably absent from all the news coverage I've seen. We've heard all kinds of talk about how to fight terrorism, and how difficult a fight it will be. We've heard that it's nearly impossible to protect ourselves against people who are willing to die to harm us. What haven't we heard? We haven't heard much discussion about WHY Middle Eastern terrorists want America destroyed. I think it has nothing to do with religion or race or any such red herring. I think we can't mind our own business, and the people whose home soil we foul, with our installed shahs and fixed elections and our ever-shifting regional loyalties and our video-game war in their backyard, and so forth, are willing to sacrifice themselves to make us do our dirty work somewhere else. No one seems willing to raise that issue. We could defend ourselves against terrorists by not doing shitty things in their country, and by not supplying military equipment to their hostile neighbors. This would make people less willing to die in an attack against us. Remember, terrorists are not lunatics. They are, I believe, rational, passionate persons driven by desperation. Removing the source of desperation (American meddling) seems easier and more humane than destroying half a country. But since backing out of the Middle East would result in higher gas prices and such, we're going go to to war. I want revenge, and I want justice, like everyone else, but I understand a certain hypocrisy in our position. We're waging a war because someone slapped us in the face and told us to leave them the fuck alone. Since we, in our collective arrogance, couldn't allow anyone to dictate policy to us, even the policy we carry out in their backyard, we must destroy them in a protracted battle. They've been telling us to go away for a long time; why didn't we listen? Why did it take an outlash of this magnitude for us to pay attention? And unfortunately, we seem to be paying attention to what happened but not to why it happened.

People have said repeatedly that we all changed on September 11th. I don't know what that means, exactly, because I don't feel like I know what anything means right now. Last week, I was a young dentist with a beautiful loving wife, and we were enjoying some financial success & stability, finally letting ourselves dream of owning a home in the near future. Things seemed pretty good, but now I don't feel like it means much anymore. I can't help but wonder what my doctoral degree would have meant while I was being hijacked to my death or incinerated & crushed in my office. What does a paycheck mean to a corpse? It all seems so fleeting & fragile. My wife & I still love each other, just like last month, and we're very strong together, but right now we spend more of our time staring at our feet or making chit-chat than when we were dating. Is this a common symptom of our collective grief, or was this destruction just enough to send me personally into psychological oblivion? Nothing means anything anymore. I hope things start to mean something again soon. I don't mean material things, I mean elements of my life.

I don't know what else to write, except that I hope I feel better soon. Thanks for reading; tell me what you think.

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