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YOU FLIP ON THE TELEVISION.
SMOKE IS STREAMING OUT OF THE NORTH TOWER. Its twin stands gleaming
and untouched in the morning sunlight (is the sky really that
blue over New York?). A plane approaches. A jet. It banks smoothly.
Incredibly, it flies right into the giant pillar of glass and
steel that is the south tower. For a nanosecond it disappears,
is swallowed whole, and then a giant orange fireball belches
out of the skyscraper like an angry god. You sit down. Your mind
tells you that bodies are burning and exploding, but you don't
get it. It's too bizarre. It's happening too fast. It's too much
like a movie. You need to see it again. Maybe then you'll be
able to feel.
But you don't feel.
You just get more numb. You think of the Kennedy assassination,
the Zapruder film, the president's head snapping backward, the
first lady climbing onto the back of the Lincoln to retrieve
a piece of her husband's skull. This is worse than that. This
is thousands of people dying horribly, people jumping out of
windows a thousand feet up, sheer chaos, terror. You never understood
what terror was before.
Now you're starting
to feel. A slight sickness in the stomach. A coldness spreading
up the spine. You feel jumpy. You can't sit still. A shudder
passes through your body. You'd like to think you're shaking
with rage. But you know it's fear.
And when the towers
collapse, first one and a little later the other, you're somehow
not so surprised. It's not that you expected it. It's just that
you've lost the mental energy necessary to feel amazement. It's
not like a movie anymore. It's like a dream, disastrous to the
point of absurdity. The buildings have vaporized right in front
of you. They've become enormous billowing clouds rushing through
the canyons of Manhattan, bearing down on screaming people running
so fast they're literally coming out of their shoes. You almost
want to laugh. Is this real?
Pearl Harbor was never forgotten.
Neither was Dallas. Sept. 11 will never be forgotten either --
although what has disappeared, along with the 3,000-odd victims,
is the shock, the blunt impact of the event, the numbness, the
disbelief, the overwhelming need on that day to make contact
with another human being, any human being, and say "Can
you believe....?" It was as if by talking to another person
people could verify the reality of what had taken place, assure
themselves that while the attacks were insanely evil, the world
they hadn't known they depended on so much was still there, familiar
and unchanged, secure.
One year later, the attacks
have faded, but what they spawned is still very much with us
-- a global war on terrorism; increased security measures, both
at airports and elsewhere; concerns about government intrusion
into civil liberties. A war against Iraq, a possibility even
without Sept. 11, appears to have greater urgency. Where all
this is headed no one knows, but one thing is clear -- like it
or not, the old familiar world has changed. For most Americans,
at least those not directly affected by the attacks, life may
be much the same. But the planet we all live on has become a
more dangerous and unpredictable place.
Presented in this issue are a variety of stories having to do
with 9-11 and its aftermath from the perspective of folks in
the Humboldt region. Some remain deeply affected by the events
of 12 months ago, others say they've moved on. But no one's forgotten.
They never will.
-- Keith Easthouse
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