My 9/11 Memories and 2 Commemorations

Posted: September 10, 2011 in Experiences, On Compassion, Poems, Politics
Tags: , , , , , , ,

September 11, 2001 is one of those days that you never forget. It is one of those times when you always remember exactly what you were doing, where you were, and what you were thinking. My personal story is no better, no worse, and no more interesting than most others. In fact, as 9/11 stories go, mine is not that big of a deal. But I’m sharing it today because the body of stories can never be large enough to fully encompass the profound horror of that day. So, here is my memory of 9/11/2001 and a couple poems on the subject from my book “The New Poetics of Isolation”.

Every year, in September, comes the largest broadcast technology trade-show in Europe – IBC, The International Broadcasting Convention. I was a Product Manager at Grass Valley Inc. and, as such, I had to be at the show for setup, several days prior to the opening. Many of us were flying to Amsterdam that week. Some on September 13th or 15th; some even earlier than I; say, September 7th or 8th. But as it happens, my friend Mark Narveson and I had chosen to leave Portland on September 10th, for arrival in Amsterdam in the early morning of September 11th.

On the morning we landed, it was still deep in the night of September 10th in the United States. Nothing special had happened and we simply landed and headed for the SAS/Radisson hotel. By the time we were settled into our rooms it was mid morning. As dedicated product managers, we immediately headed off to the convention center to help with setup. Then, about 3:00PM, the jet jag was kicking in so we went back to the hotel, intent on resting for a few hours and then going to dinner. But, again, since I was devoted to my product and I needed some software, I chose to first call my engineering project manager counterpart, Dave Slack. I call Dave and he answered. After only a couple minutes Dave stopped me and said “Do you have CNN in your room?” “Yes”, I said. “Well, turn it on now!!!” One month later, I wrote the following poem:

Amsterdam, September 11, 2001

October 2001 (Rev: April 2002)

Jet lag
in an Amsterdam hotel room
after forty-five minutes of sleep.

I awake, as from an overdose of Valium,
five blocks from the “Red Light District”,
and telephone my colleague.

Five minutes
into our conversation
he says “Turn on CNN, Now!”

First astonishment, then a
five-day vacillation between work
and weeping.

And telephoning my family,
with tears and fears,
as from an overdose of surrealism.

Right after I spoke to Dave, I called Mark and told him to watch what I was watching. At this point, only the first tower had been hit and everyone was only speculating. Mark and I decided not to go for dinner until we’d found out what happened. Ultimately 2 towers fell and thousands died. We now know how many people had lost their lives but, at the time, no exact numbers were known. Even a month later, the exact death count was still being continuously revised. That is why my other poem of October 2001 contains incorrect numbers. I’ve never tried to “correct” that poem because I think it demonstrates how long we went without having exact counts. Unlike my first poem, which just addressed my time in Amsterdam, this second poem dealt with my deep anger and my struggle with that anger in the context of my lifelong devotion to compassion and open-mindedness. Here it is:

A Threnody for the Victims of the September 11th Attack and the Compassion Lost with Them

October 2001

September 11, 2001:
Three planes
destroy three buildings
that once stood
taller than the
cedars of Lebanon.

Tijuana, 1963:
There’s a picture of mom,
and dad, and me
with sombreros.
I don’t remember.
To early.

Three-thousand three-hundred thousand people die:
Business or pleasure?
No. Life or death!
In the same week we Jews
pray for renewal.

San Diego, 1979:
A wedding in powder blue.
Yes, it’s true,
powder blue

Just a few crazed bastards,
some barely 30 years of age,
chose death
to harvest and discard
the entire infrastructure
of humanity.

And where are
the Pope and Dalai Lama now?
And where are
the Moslems who defend life?
And why retain
compassion now?

Redondo Beach, 1984:
There’s a picture of my
tai chi group on the beach.
I remember
all too well!

Paris 1987:
A café on the “boul miche”,
with coffee and scientific dictionaries
and the writings of
Pierre Boulez
by the IRCAM sign.

Three-thousand three-hundred people die:
For a cause no one understands.
With hand written instructions for piety and
the roots of liberty are torn from the earth,
in the same week I read about John Adams.

Paris, again, 1989:
A café on the boul miche.
with a wedding,
in black
and white.

Just a few crazed bastards
choose prayer then death.
Clear-cutting over three thousand

Valencia, 1982:
A music degree.
A military industrial complex grows.
An actor for president.

And the law changes now:
They can now tap your phone
by name, not simply number.
The National Guard

And pity the man who
visits a pornographic website,
now that they can track the history
of all his visits.

Big Sur, 1967:
A seven year old at Esalon?
No. A family trip
to see “General Sherman Tree”.
Foreshadowing three grown children
whose liberty now stands shaken.

the threats,
Those few crazed bastards
rightly die.

And where are
the Pope and Dalai Lama now?
And where are
the Moslems who defend life?
And why retain
compassion now?

Los Angeles, 1960
Would I have come into a world
so devoid of human values,
for a lost liberty, in a land of sadness,
had I known and had a soul
to chose?

As my gift of liberty wanes, I fear.
the pope and Dalai Lama
and Moslems who defend life
are overshadowed by the evil.
Tearing the roots of joy from
the tree of life.

Yet, succumb to fear
and lose compassion
and WE discard
the entire infrastructure of humanity!

Los Angeles, 1960:
I think
I have
my answer.

And where are
the Pope and Dalai Lama now?
And where are
the Moslems who defend life?
And why retain
compassion now?

September 11, 2001:
Today compassion was torn from the earth
like the root-ball of a redwood;
taking with it
a rich mass 0f soil
forty-one years in diameter.

I decided to share both of these poems, exactly as written ten years ago, for two reasons. First; while I’d like everyone to believe that I’m a compassionate, benevolent, open-minded, caring, rational guy; I’m content with sharing the fact that I struggled with that then – and that I struggle with it now. Second, in memory of those who lost their lives, I think it’s important for the families and the world to know that even we who had no family die on 9/11 are forever affected by it.

Mark and I went to dinner on the night of 9/11/2001. Every restaurant and bar in Amsterdam was showing coverage of the attacks. When the trade-show finally opened, there was a moment of silence in honor of those who perished. Many of our colleagues did not even make it to Amsterdam and we who did had to spend our time wondering how we would be getting home. Most of the folks in Europe were wonderfully compassionate to us.

Within a day or two, it because clear that the attacks were masterminded by the terrible beast, Osama bin Laden. This led to one of the most interesting encounters that my colleagues and I had in Amsterdam, that year. While almost everyone we met was compassionate, not all were.

One night we were walking around the city, near the main train station. There was a young Arab man who saw that we were American and began yelling at us. He was drunk and was with 2 other friends. Already, he was yelling about the great man bin Laden and how we American’s deserved this. I’ll never forget that the first guy who he started to harass was the one guy in our group when was NOT American. He was German and he looked the Arab guy right in the eyes and, in a very heavy German accent he said “Piss off!” The Arab guy was completely taken aback; but it did not take long for him to start harassing us again. At this point, we were standing directly outside the train station and we had had enough. Ross Summers and I were, perhaps, 30 seconds away from getting in a fight with the guy when his friends called him off and convinced him that harassing us was probably not his finest intellectual moment. I think it would have been a very bad idea to fight with him but I always wonder just how good that would have felt. It’s probably best I don’t know.

Needless to say, like every American, my 9/11 experience will be forever etched in memory. But, unlike today and unlike most times in the past, the upside of the horror was that, for a brief moment, the world felt compassionate toward America. To me that proves that, no matter what, perhaps global compassion IS possible.

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