15 years ago today, my wife and I walked into the oncologist’s office to start her fifth round of chemo. I was focussed on making sure that everything was as good as it could be, given the circumstances. Anti-nausea meds? Got ‘em. Kids taken care of for the next few days? I thought so. Food that Joy could eat? I hoped that sushi would be OK, that it was low-odor enough for her to stomach. I was thinking that maybe zinc would help with the dis-regulation of her taste buds, something I had read in an old New Yorker article. I was a little wooly-headed from the stress. Joy was deep in her emotional upheaval.
In the office, everyone was talking about the plane which had hit the World Trade Center. My first thought was, “How the hell did the pilot get that far off course?” We watched the tower smoking through our mental haze. The nurse got Joy settled into the lounger, and started the preliminary drip. So we were watching when the second plane hit, and we understood that it was an intentional act. We watched as the towers fell. We heard about the Pentagon. And we heard about the plane crash in Eastern Pennsylvania.
While my wife was hooked up to the evil red drip, I made some frantic phone calls. Our daughter had left that morning on a school field trip to Washington, D.C., and we figured out that the class would be very close to where the plane hit. I called the school, who had no information. I called my mother to let her know what I had seen and heard on the news (we were in White Plains, 45 minutes outside the city, she was at home on the Upper East Side) and to tell her to stay inside. Then I tried to call our family office on Wall Street, but the phone lines were out. Eventually the school called to let us know that the kids were OK, and were returning to school late that evening. That was good: I didn’t have to leave Joy and drive down to get our girl.
We went home after the session, and pulled the rug up behind us.
The next day we began to find out what had happened. People I knew had died, family and friends of close friends had died, Wall Street was in chaos. Our kids were home, my wife was sick, there was nothing I could do. We hung in there, tried to console each other and the girls, called our friends to commiserate and mourn.
Eventually the chemo and radiation were finished, my wife’s hair began to grow back, NY began to look more like its regular ugly self (despite being born there, lived and worked there, I have no love for the city. Yes, it is interesting. Yes, there are wonderful parts. Yes, yes, yes. I despise it.) Giuliani boasted of his accomplishments, the rubble and debris were mostly gone, there was a big hole in the ground.
It had been my mother’s 69th birthday.
After that, the years when we went to dinner, people gave us the side-eye, or occasionally direct confrontation: Why are you celebrating? Are you terrorists? Don’t you CARE? And we would have a conversation about “going about our lives”.
America realized something that day: we are mortal, and life is unpredictable in its application of mortality. Predictably, we lashed out at the targets we could see, and equally predictably, politicians pointed us at the targets they though would make them the most news/money/votes. The “news” media had a field day, and ratings were never better! Everyone won.
Except you know, the 30,000 troops who died in the phony “police actions” that followed. Except for the 300,000 people who died under our bombs. Except for all the grieving families. Except for all the countless soldiers who were ignored when they came home (except at NFL/NHL/NBA games, which, you know, is totally supporting the troops.)
Mortality. The notion that you could die at any moment, unpredictably, unprepared, unaware. Or, maybe worse, you might not die, but a family member, a child, a wife or husband, a parent might die and leave you alone. And it is SO convenient to blame ISIS/ISIL/DAESH for your fears. Why, if it’s them, then all we gotta do is nuke them until they glow, then shoot them in the dark, right? Right? THEN we’ll be safe.
And since we can’t tell who you are, anyone who doesn’t look like me, gets the terrorist treatment. And I’m “colorblind”, which is a great way to say, “You all look alike to me, so you're all suspects.” And since I’m afraid, I’ll scream and get laws passed that criminalize looking like a terrorist. THEN I’ll be safe.
I’ve buried 2 kids. I KNOW what it’s like to live in fear of losing another. I know what it’s like to want to wrap my family in bubble-wrap to protect them. It’s no way to live.
Our country still lives in fear. It’s no way to live.