Letter from the Vineyard 09 11 2021 Reflections on an anniversary…

Letter from the Vineyard, 9 11 2021

Reflections on the anniversary…

For days, I have sought escape from thinking about today, 9/11, anything to give me a diversion from the 20th anniversary, coming just as Kabul has fallen back into the hands of the Taliban, a coupling of events hard to fathom.

The English newspaper, The Guardian, encourages us to ask what was this all about?

Once, I went with my brother and sister-in-law to the 9/11 Memorial, having to leave when some artifact came too close to my heart, waiting for them above, in the sunshine and light of another day, not wounded as I was that day, a wound which has never really healed for so many who were there, who experienced it.  I lost no one; I am still healing.

It was a pivot moment in history and to be present at a pivot moment, is not a bad thing, though it carries risks.

My memories are of moments…

Being at Spring and West Broadway, the corner just west of where I lived, seeing the gash in the first Tower, smoke billowing out, knowing death was there, inevitable, unavoidable with that kind of wound. 

Riding a bus north with Wall Street refugees, all in suits, vainly working their cellphones, three African American women who noticed an old man, resting on a fire hydrant, the bus departing before he could wobble to it, stopping the bus, carrying him aboard, the bus driver working with other bus drivers to get the man home, to the Upper East Side.

Later, walking south, the night full of smoke, the smell of brimstone, trucks lining up by the hundreds to carry debris away, showing my driver’s license to prove I lived beyond the barricades set up to protect the work going on, waking the next morning, standing on Spring Street, empty, desolate, a singular living presence on a street now littered with papers blown down from the Towers, the smell of burnt rubber and plastic, reminding me of my first night in Delhi.

There is much gnashing of teeth and questioning of America’s resolve, all of it echoing the words after the fall of Saigon, which did not, as expected, herald the end of the American Empire.

Is this time different? Does our Rome fall?

Well, Rome took a long time falling, plowing on from catastrophe after catastrophe until it finally fell in upon itself, giving rise to a whole caste of historians who have plucked apart those ruins looking for reasons – was it the lead lining the amphora?  Was it the constant military expenditures draining the imperium? The rise of Christianity?  The wealth gap between classes?  The external pressure of barbarian hordes descending upon the empire? The lack of slaves after imperial expansion stopped and border defense began?

Since Gibbons we have parsed those events, more so since the U.S. has found itself internally and externally, eternally, compared to Rome.

What is true, to me, is that day, for a moment, we stood, as a country, as a world, united in shared tragedy.  In a single day, in a single spot, I witnessed the worst of humanity and its best.  If I let myself, I can emotionally be back there and when I do, the wash of emotion can almost bring me to my knees.

No, I am not sorry I was there, grateful I lost no one. 

Bu in the years since we have all lost so much. 

That moment of global of unity has been squandered, we have spent endless blood and treasure in wars that have accomplished, it appears, nothing, and while we fought “The War on Terror,” we lost focus, turning a blind eye to the massive corruption plaguing successive Afghan governments, toppling Saddam Hussein over falsities about weapons of mass destruction, allowing social injustice to flourish, surrendering bits of freedom to “be safe.”

We have watched the devolution of the Republican party to a shell of itself, mostly devoted now to the cult of Trump, and with him we flirt with our own version of Mussolini.  His brainless minions wrack havoc on the land at the local and state level.

The Obama administration bought “The War on Terror” story and played it out.  The Democratic party seems to have become the party of the elites.  And never has Eisenhower’s “beware the military-industrial complex” seem so prescient.

Twenty years later, almost universal empathy has become almost universal rage, a rage killing us with the refusal to get a damn shot, even when surrounded by hospitals overflowing with the sick and dying.

We are not Rome though, like Rome, we are squandering our future by not having a plan for it, not sufficiently evolving with the times, which are a changin, from our de facto Poet Laureate, Nobel Prize Winner, from the Iron Range of my home state, Bob Dylan.

And those times have been a changin since 1964, when Dylan penned the verse.  And what the hell have we done with the time?

“World Trade Center 9/11/01 attack memorial photo” by cattias.photos is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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