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Hullabaloo


Sunday, September 11, 2011

 
I remember
by David Atkins

It wasn't a typical morning. I was walking from my parents' home to the office of the family business three city blocks away in a 10-story Los Angeles highrise. I was 20 years old and in college at UCLA, but the academic year hadn't started yet. The family business kept me preoccupied. I was supposed to open for the day and prep the office for the arrival of several clients from the East Coast, including New York and Boston. I made my way in, did some preparations, and then headed across the street to get some iced tea to wake me up. I hadn't had much sleep the night before.

The radio was on at the little cafe. They were saying something about a plane hitting a building in New York and that it was on fire. They mentioned the World Trade Center. No one in the cafe was listening. That's when the cell phones starting going off. I loudly hushed everyone so I could listen to the radio. That's when I heard that one of the towers had reportedly collapsed. I got my tea and rushed back across the street to the office.

I tried to log onto the Internet. Unsuccessfully. It took me about five minutes to finally get a news page to load. When it did, the headline read that the World Trade Center towers had both been destroyed in a likely terrorist attack. I was in shock. I had been to New York several times before, and been up to the top of the towers twice. It seemed impossible that they were just...gone. I immediately tried to call home on my cell phone. The call wouldn't go through. I tried the landline, and that didn't work either. I tried the landline again, and finally got on the line, and was told to come back to the house where the TV was on.

I walked on back to the house. My family was silently watching as heartwrenching images flooded the room. People screaming, crying for help, a city and a nation in shocked bewilderment. The TV reporters said the government had no idea how many other planes might be involved or what the targets were. A rumor was flying that a skyscraper in Los Angeles was being possibly targeted by an airplane.

After a short discussion, it was agreed I would walk back to the office and close down, leaving a number to call just in case the clients arrived. I cried the entire walk back to the office. Once inside, I tore off a sheet of paper, writing the words "Closed for Obvious Reasons: Call xxx-xxx-xxxx if you need assistance," taped it onto the front door and walked back, watching the skies nervously as I went. The clients never showed up that day. It wasn't until the next day that I even learned that they were still alive.

The horror of what had really happened didn't sink in until that night. I still remember it as one of the most emotionally wrenching, surreal nights of my life--which is really saying something, considering my...how shall I put this...eventful childhood and teenage years.

But I didn't have any family or relatives who perished that day in the towers, the Pentagon or Flight 93. Friends of friends did, but no one I knew personally. I was worried for a few days, as a female friend from college on whom I had a small crush was supposed to be in New York with her family at the time, and she had said they would be visiting the twin towers. Turns out she and her family were at the top of the towers at 11:00 AM on the morning of September 10th. What a difference a day makes. One day's schedule change, and she and her family would have been gone.

I can only imagine the devastation that must have come from losing a loved one on that day. The attack still reverberates in my life, even though I was barely touched personally by it. Mere words cannot describe the emotional scars left by those who survived such a loss. To say nothing of the pain and terror of those who did lose their lives on that fateful day.

After this tragedy--perhaps more than after any other--this nation needed a spirit of bipartisanship. After this horrible event, a nation torn apart over stained blue dresses and pregnant chads was ready for national unity. After this nightmare, the nation deserved a reorientation. A commitment to a new national purpose. A promise to hold the terrorists accountable, and an opportunity to find new footing in the world that would minimize that possibility of such an event ever happening again. It deserved a pathway forward that would once again make America not only the world's economic leader, but its moral leader as well.

This nation was denied that chance. It was denied that opportunity. Even those misguided souls who argue that America paid a karmic price for its foreign policy on that day, would certainly admit that the American people at least deserved an opportunity for redemption for the past, and the chance to prove that we are a great nation, capable of great things. We all merited an opportunity to take the sorrow that we felt on that day and in the days thereafter, and channel that energy into collectively making a real difference in the world.

This nation was denied that opportunity. Instead, it was led by a group of charlatans intent on enriching themselves and their friends, while abusing the moment to cow the American public into horrific and utterly unnecessary misadventures. A grieving and yet hopeful nation was conned and manipulated in the hour of its greatest vulnerability.

I remember that day as clearly as yesterday in my mind's eye. I remember the fear, the grief, the anger, the hope of that day. Over the course of ten years, those emotions were dulled to a simmering sense of permanent outrage at the "leaders" who horribly abused this country in its hour of need and for years afterward. That righteous indignation still motivates me to this day.

But still that hopeful yearning for a bold new beginning remains, just as brightly and yet just as hidden as it did on that day ten years ago in another very different September. A yearning for a grand call to action, for a new movement on which to set our course for a different world. A world free of dependence on fossil fuels, a world free of economic imperialism on behalf of multinational corporations through the barrel of a gun, a world free of poisonous bickering over irrelevant follies by a lazy media, a world free of bullies using religion as bait with which to divide hardworking families the world over, a world free of fundamentalist backlash against modernity, science and equality, a world free of the oppression of financiers stealing the world's wealth by pretending that "finding a good rate of return" is a justification for even drawing breath on the planet, much less siphoning off trillions in unjustified wealth. A world free of the sorts of fundamentalists that comprise Al Qaeda, and a world free of the influence of the millionaire corporatists who enable the mass suffering that allows and gladly enables fundamentalism to thrive.

That hope still burns as brightly as it did 10 years ago. I do my best every day to turn that hope into reality, in whatever small ways I can. And hopefully, someday, we will have a national leader who will help realize that promise for all Americans, and fulfill the destiny of a nation long denied its due.


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