Sunday, September 10, 2006

Miscellaneous: 9/11/06

Five years ago, Rosemarie needed a vacation. I wasn’t able to take time off, but a perfect opportunity presented itself: Fashion Week in New York. Rosemarie had a close friend who worked for a designer. She could go to the city on her own and throw herself into the behind-the-scenes frenzy.

The designer’s show was slated for September 9, 2001. Rosemarie made plans to fly back on the 12th.

To this day, I’m absurdly grateful for the fact that she was able to enjoy her Fashion Week experience, complete with after-party. Rosemarie called me that night, giddy and a little drunk. She called me the following night to discuss the critical reaction to the show.

She called me again at 6:43AM Pacific time on September 11 to tell me what was happening outside her window. Her friend’s apartment on 14th Street had a view of the World Trade Center. When news broke of a plane hitting the North Tower, she and her friend went to the window. They watched the second jet strike the South Tower. Within hours, Manhattan south of 14th Street was off-limits.

Rosemarie called me again later that afternoon. When we finished talking I left the house; I couldn’t sit in front of the TV anymore. I went to the Cuban coffee house up the street, because I knew it didn’t have a television or a radio.

There were other people there. A house-hunting couple comparing notes, some college students guessing how many wins the Mariners would rack up that season. Not a mention of New York, Washington, or a field in Pennsylvania. No one else considering a trip to a tattoo parlor to have the New York Mets logo and the date inked onto their skin. Just Latin music on the sound system and two conversations that could have taken place the day before.

For the first time in my life, I tried to convince my fully-conscious self that I was dreaming.

I decided to forego the tattoo, figuring the events themselves would leave a permanent mark. The next few days are packed with memories. Joining two friends for dinner on the night of September 11 at their insistence and realizing halfway through the meal that it was their anniversary. The impromptu memorial that sprang up at Seattle Center. Rosemarie’s dispatches from her extra week in New York. As difficult as it was to be separated, she told me that she wouldn’t have been able to bear being away from the city during that time. I understand how she felt. We’re both New Yorkers, after all.

But I keep returning to those few minutes in the coffee shop, when I briefly tried to convince myself that none of what I had seen on television was real. Because once that interlude ended, I was a different person.

My religious and political beliefs became clarified. About them, I will say only this: I worship now at the Church of Competence, and in the past five years my prayers have not been answered.

I also recognized that I came of age in a blessed era, when the prospect of the sudden death of thousands by man-made causes was at a remove. And now that that notion is commonplace again, it underscores the importance of doing what matters most to you. It’s not possible to live the dream every minute of the day; the great and the meek alike have to do their laundry. But the lucky among us will don those clean clothes in preparation for a task that uses the best we have to offer, and that brings us joy.

I think often of those people who died in offices or on airplanes five years ago, and I hope one of two things. That they were there because there was nowhere else they would rather be, or that being there was a means to an end that they had already begun to realize. I can think of no sadder fate than to have your life stripped away when it’s not even the one that you wanted.

In the last five years I’ve pushed myself into projects that in the past I might have put off, including this website. I’ve had adventures large and small, profound and ridiculous, that I might otherwise have missed. All because of an epiphany I had in a coffee shop. I haven’t been asked as a citizen to make any sacrifices. Until I am, there are two steps I can take on my own at a time when a handful of fundamentalists are using their distorted beliefs to wreak havoc and destruction. I can say no to fear, and say yes to life. And for me, saying yes to life includes talking about bad movies, crime fiction, and strange TV commercials. Which I’ll start doing again in my next post.