Sunday, September 10, 2006

Five Years Ago

Millions of articles are being written this week about “where I was on that day.” Why such significance is being given to the fifth year anniversary of 9/11 is not immediately clear, but perhaps it’s because it’s distant enough to give us some perspective but recent enough to still feel raw.

It was a moment in time where the global and personal were very intertwined. San Francisco was certainly already sobering to tougher times, and I was dating a guy who had just lost a tech related job. He seemed calm enough with that reality, and it seemed I had met someone that had the potential of evolving into something lasting. A few days after Labor Day, we were intimate for the first time, despite the fact that his landline and cell phone rang several times each. Having ignored them until he was about to turn off the light, he said, “Well, I guess I should find out who was so frantic to reach me.” After hearing him on what sounded like several calls, he returned to bed and turned off the light. I asked if everything was okay. “My father died.” I asked if he wanted me to go, and he said no. “What next?” he asked. “First my job, now this. What else could go wrong?”

He’d not seen his father in ten years, and he described him as the old German that was always the last one to be skirted out of a bar. He claimed that there was no love lost between them, but his glumness only increased in the next few days before I was to head off to Oaxaca, Mexico, on September 11 to lead a group of donors to visit program sites. I was standing in line at the Oakland Airport at 6:45 PST waiting for my section to board when the announcement about the FAA grounding all flights for 30 minutes. “Those are all the details we can give you at this moment, but you might want to watch the news in the sports bar,” the announcer on the PA system advised. After tracking down the 12 donors from around the country, none of whom ever got off the ground, I watched the events unfold and then rebooked my flight for the next day, intent that I could forge forward regardless of what had transpired. Within 15 minutes of when the second tower fell, I was one of maybe five people in the airport that were not staff. I felt no sense of any fear or dread until I approached the Bay Bridge and thought what a perfect target it would make.

“Just when I asked how could anything worse happen…” my new beau said over an early dinner. Neither of us wanted to be alone that night, but we also were not great company. That night in the comfort of his apartment near the summit of Twin Peaks, we could hear helicopters circling all night long. There was a false sense of comfort and safety that night. Whatever had been between us in the first couple of weeks between us seemed doomed, no matter how much I wanted to believe otherwise. The course of the next five years would see plenty of personal sadness that mirrored global events. Five years on, I feel having come full cycle.

Tonight, on the eve of 9/11’s fifth anniversary, I have been watching Louis Malle’s Lacombe Lucien, a film I’ve not seen since its 1974 release when I was making the transition from high school to university. It was no less disturbing then than it is today. But then it seemed to be about a distant evil and violence that would never touch me. Its main shock back then was that it was the first time I realized that the French could be as brutal as Germans. Traveling to former French colonies two decades on would further underscore that reality. The film holds even greater power today as a testament of how horrid people can be outside of a battle field and don’t need to commit murder on a mass scale to be a part of such brutality. It is a reminder that terror is nothing new, a tactic used in times of war and supposed peace. And it could happen on a battlefield or a seemingly tranquil, rural French village at the hands of a deceptively fresh-faced innocent


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