Sunday, September 11, 2011 | Categories: Michael's Essays
That Tuesday morning, the day broke warm and clear, a comforting sun in a cloudless sky.
Shortly after eight that morning, I was having my eyes examined, the doctor looking for cataracts.
Eye doctors, as you know, put this solution in your eyes to dilate the pupils. This makes everything blurry and fuzzy around the edges, sometimes for hours.
Afterwards, I hailed a cab for the office downtown. The driver craned his neck and told me an air liner had flown into a New York skyscraper.
I gave the guy ten dollars to break a few laws.
At the office a seasoned producer, her hands shaking, grabbed me by the arm and asked "What is happening, what is going on?"
I had no idea. I was told to get into the studio and start talking on the radio.
My eyes were still blurry as I tried to follow and report on the television pictures coming from New York.
It would be a long day and night of blurred and frightening images, a new kind of destruction that beggared the imagination.
Beyond the horror of the images, the madness of the story, there was an unnerving journalistic anomaly about it. It seemed that throughout the day, the more information, the more confusing the story became.
It's not supposed to work that way. Usually, the more information, the more we understand.
But this event was somehow outside the normal portals of understanding.
Then there was the second plane, the attack on the Pentagon, the crash of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.
The US President, less than a year in office, was nobody knew where. The skies were cleared of all air traffic.
It truly seemed that our part of the world was under attack.
We thought about the people we knew in New York. We thought about their families and especially children and our own. How to explain this to a child?
As the day wore on, the reporting was all about estimates of death. Some television reporters suggested the toll could go as high as 15 or 20 thousand.
Deep into that night we tried to grapple with hard questions which tumbled through the terrifying emptiness of grief---who did this thing, why did they do it, how could anybody with any claim to being human carry out such a deed?
It took months to arrive at something approaching the actual death toll-2,985 people, including 24 Canadians.
In the United States, the shock turned to fear which turned to mourning which turned to anger. Americans roused, talked about Pearl Harbor. About retaliation, about revenge.
Over the next few years, history seemed to speed up. And invasion of Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, homeland security, a war on terror.
We learned to cope with strange allusive additions to our vocabulary: Gitmo, axis of evil, jihad, WMD, water boarding, extraordinary rendition, Islamist.
Professional comedians and talk show hosts wondered when they could be funny again.
Our language changed. The phrase nine-eleven came to stand for a totality of evil, a thing unprecedented, as if history itself began on that date.
It became a standing reference point, a marker for the convulsions that characterized the ensuing decade; the wars, tsunamis, hurricanes,. More suicide bombings, economic collapse.
In some weird matrix way it all went back to that sparkling Tuesday in September 2001.
It shaped a decade of our history. To a great extent, it defined us and what we believe and how we live.
Ten years later, it defines us still.