They say you have to go a long way out of your way, traveling in the wrong direction, to return a short distance correctly. Here we are, 2010, nine years after 9/11/01. I’m ready to make the move back to the Big Apple later on this week, the nine year anniversary of 9/11 and I can’t help but wonder about where we are in America, where we are individually, as a culture, and a nation.
In the first eight months of 2001 I was dangerously close to the spot of future horrors. I was in the skies over the Atlantic in August, the captain got on the speaker as we came home, “If you’ll look out the windows you’ll see the Twin Towers.” For my birthday in May of 2001 my parents, brother, and I all scaled the elevators of the Twin Towers and did the requisite touristy things which tourists do. I wasn’t really a tourist in New York City; been brought up there since I was a babe. Three years old and trolling the streets of Roosevelt Avenue, Junction Boulevard, 110th Street, this was my town. Lemon Ice King of Corona, Linden Park, Shea Stadium, the place where I grew up. My mother tells me I romanticize my infancy. But I did on a number of occasions, before 10 years of age, take Metro-North into Grand Central, navigate to the subways, hit the #7 train, and meet my grandmother, aunts, or dad on the platform in an age before cell phones, GPS trackers, or To Catch a Predator. The guise I took in New York was pretty grown up!
My long way out of my way to get back to this point begins in Manhattan; 36th Street. Our 7×12, roach-infested apartment that my girlfriend and I lived in sin together in until we were man and wife. From there our road took us all the way to Los Angeles, Brooklyn, back to Los Angeles via the 48 contiguous United Sates and back to this moment here: Charleston. The beginning of this journey is even before 36th Street. Six years earlier, my first apartment while the wreckage of Ground Zero was still turning up dead bodies, December 2001. Back even further than that.
Carmel, New York. September 11, 2001: 5AM. I was working for Starbucks in Newtown Connecticut in September 2001. My managers had asked me to go up to this location in nearby Carmel, New York and open up the store for them. I was a proud barista, shift supervisor, and key holder; I could do this. After all, it was a Tuesday in September; what could possibly happen?
Ripple Effects of Water: When I heard the first irate customer come into Starbucks and say, “Can’t you turn a TV or a radio on!?!” all I could say back in my cool-as-a-cucumber, team-leader demeanor was, “No I’m sorry sir we only play Hear Music in Starbucks.” I had to calm my guests. Starbucks in the morning was a stress free zone, where people could leave their horror out the door.
Of course my man Chicken Little was the pebble, the ripple effects took hold when we realized indeed the sky was falling. The gossip around this Starbucks I hadn’t been inside before and I haven’t been back to since was electric. The confusion was palpable and all I knew was I needed to get the heck out of there and warn my girlfriend. New York, Washington DC, Danbury Connecticut, it all made sense, the high-jackers were going to fly a plane into the Danbury Fair Mall where my girlfriend was opening her store. It was a fatwa against America, I had to save her.
Ripple Effects Further Afield: Many argue that this whole mosque situation is just more of the same intolerant hatred of Muslims by the intolerant right. I don’t agree with this mosque in this place; I don’t view myself as intolerant. I know I don’t hate Muslims. I also know the argument: ‘Well then how far away does a mosque need to be to be okay?’ I don’t know, but not there. My fear about this mosque being built in this spot is the retaliation I’m sure would come if-not-when from some whacko. And it’s just in poor taste, so many still grieving families live there, it would be an even greater reminder than the huge pit in the ground.
Do I think Americans hate Muslims? No. Do I think Americans blame Muslims for the attacks on 9/11? Not the intelligent ones. I think we’ve all traveled a very long road to get where we are today. Are we mad? Heck yes we’re mad! Even if everyone responsible for this is rounded up, found guilty, stuck on planes, and allowed to die a fiery burning death in a desert somewhere, such an angry scene still is not going to bring our loved ones back. I think Americans have gotten past the anger. I think most of us understand where we believe this attacks genesis is. I think we all just want to grieve, we need to grieve, as long as it takes. Our friends, our family, our co-workers, our cubicle-mates, they’re gone forever. Gone also is our latent discomfort with flying (it’s now an acute refusal), gone is this wonderful symbol of the New York City skyline, gone is our trust in the kindness of strangers. “Be Afraid.” I don’t know anyone who enjoys fear. So of course we’re mad; that’s not going away. But are we on the road? Yes. Each day we live is one step in the right direction. We have no choice. The world waits for no one, and we still need to grieve. As Steve Miller reminds us; time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin, into the future.
Fly, eagle, fly. Let your spirit carry you, until you are free.