Glen Arbor Sun writers remember 9/11


Calling Kabul

By Anne-Marie Oomen

I remember in present tense. The first day of classes. Cool, blue-skied, full of the wonder of teaching after the summer freelancing. First hour, an 8 a.m. playwriting course, and I am offering up the get-acquainted talk and diagnostic “How familiar are you with …” questionnaire that will inform me of their knowledge, but will also buy me one more day to play catch up. Catch my own breath before these amazing young people lure me into the long breath of their learning and their lives. While they write, I slip out for copies. Our secretary meets me in the hallway. A plane flew into the World Trade Center. Another. The Pentagon. I’m department chair, and I’m supposed to remain calm, but I gasp out loud, and for a minute, literally can’t catch my breath, or let it go, can’t get the air right in my lungs, and then I hear, up and down the hallways, TV’s coming on. Newscasters’ voices garble and overlap. Teachers open doors, step out, announce or ask. Voices tremble on the edge of fears, tears. My own. We already know the world has changed irrevocably. As the day winds on, images of lost men and women, falling towers, become part of our collective memory.

But there is one incident that I personally regret. An international student comes to me. She says her parents are teaching in Kabul, that she wants to call them. I think a minute. I honestly doubt she will get through. Phone lines are jammed. I encourage her to wait. She looks at me oddly. They are in Kabul. I am not thinking about what that means. Kabul? It’s a capitol, one of the “stans,” isn’t it? Afganistan in not on my radar. al Qaeda, terrorist cells, Taliban, Bin Laden, these are words that will become familiar in the days that follow, surrounded by disbelief, then awe and fearful understanding, but I don’t have a relation to them yet. But my student has already begun to visualize a world I barely comprehend. The map of awareness in her mind is spread over the many countries in which her parents have taught and she has lived. I wish I had led her to my phone and said, Yes, call them right now. They will get out. They will come home safely. This is one telling difference. Through this tragedy and loss, the world map I carry, and thus the world attitude, has become larger — in all its complexity. I know better the names of countries, their relationships. I have read more about cultures, religions, war and diplomacy than I ever thought I would. The places, stories, words — both terrible and transformative — have given me lines of connection. Cities and geographies, rivers and topographies, and most of all, people from other places, help me live in broader consciousness. This does not negate sorrow, but opens it, lets it/me breathe.

I know where Kabul is. Today, I believe I would help her call.

Remembering the firefighters

By H. Michael Buhler

For me, September 11th started the evening of the 10th. I was coming home from a long-overdue barrage of errands in Traverse City, and came upon a desperate teen on the side of the road, his pickup truck hood up, a little smoke, and the unmistakable smell of a fried clutch. I didn’t have a car phone at that time, and very few carried cell phones up north, because service was spotty. I drove the boy home to Honor, down by the fish hatchery.

In a post 9/11 world, would that happen now?

Tuesday I had taken the day off, so after almost two hours of catching up on emails I checked the news: “Plane hits World Trade Center”. But with my dial-up service, I could get no web pages to load after that. So I switched on CNN to see why a Cessna could have possibly flown into Manhattan. And of course, it was chaos, and there was no Cessna, and two buildings were ablaze. I know that somehow I got a shower and got dressed (with the TV blaring), and watched in disbelief as one tower after the other collapsed, not having considered that possibility. I calculated the size of the buildings, and made a prediction about how many might have been lost (regrettably I was close, I recall). It seemed so distant from Glen Arbor, and there was the contrast of mayhem on the big screen, and the prospect of mowing my lawn that day out the picture window.

As the camera crews fanned out amidst the rubble, I remember the sounds of all those car alarms, muffled, under ash and rubble.

A few weeks later I began my fire classes as a volunteer for Chief John DePuy on the Glen Arbor Fire Department. And it was then I learned that those weren’t car alarms: they were motion detectors sounding off on motionless firefighters.

The sun also rises

By Mary Sharry

The Sun rose on a clear autumn-like day in the village of Empire on the morning the airplanes cut their way into the twin towers, disintegrating and vaporizing all on board. All we need to say is 9/11 and everyone knows to what we refer. My friend, whose birthday is on September 11, says the reminder of that date will never be the same for her, nor will it be the same for any of us.

Deepak Chopra wrote his book The Deeper Wound as a need to sort through his own feelings and to help others struggling with the emotions arising from the aftermath of destruction. In writing about helplessness and vulnerability, Chopra says: “When you find that you have no defense against your own fear, you begin to feel vulnerable. In many ways it is healthy to feel vulnerable. It shows that you are not cut off, either from yourself or others. But the feeling of helplessness is extremely difficult to live with. This alone can raise dread, and the mind struggles to regain control.”

On that day I felt those emotions which led to fear, anger and bewilderment. After my daughter had called from where she worked at the Friendly Tavern here in town to tell me to turn on my television, to see what was happening, I watched in disbelief. After the first tower collapsed, I walked downtown and saw people on the sidewalks and standing in the middle of Front Street, crying, their arms around each other. I went into the Friendly to see my daughter. Customers and employees stood before the television. Speechless. Helpless. People with tears in their eyes. The whole world wept before the sun set on that day. We felt changed forever.

Now the waxing moon rises over the village of Empire. The sun will come up in the morning. Some things will be changed; some will remain as they were. Life goes on, as it must. We are changed, and I think we have come to realize how connected we are to one another. There is no other way but to know this, to feel another’s pain and to express not hatred and hateful reaction, but to express love and caring for one another, for our land, for all lands and for this beautiful planet, this earth, our beautiful home.

No home is an island

By Pat Stinson

I was due at a 10 a.m. job interview with a mail-order company located 25 minutes from home and was readying myself for the drive. Since we made the decision in ’95 to forego television watching, and because I didn’t listen to the radio or read the newspaper with my coffee or tea in the morning, I was unaware of the first airplane strikes. This was long before Facebook and the instant clamor-chatter of social media.

Around 9:25, I hopped in the car. I remember I had just passed the intersection at M-72 west and County Road 651 when I tuned the radio to NPR and heard the news. My first feelings were of incredulity — it can’t be, who would do this, how could an airplane topple a building — followed by a degree of numbness, then anger and helplessness as the theories unfolded. So many questions were swirling in my mind that the movements required to get me to the interview were all automatic. Cliché, but true … I don’t remember a thing thereafter about stopping, turning, traffic or passing vehicles.

When I arrived for the interview, people in the office were already discussing Afghanistan, the Taliban and how we’re hated here in the West. When I met my interviewer, he gave me a perfunctory tour of the operation, then we both admitted that we weren’t in the mood for the usual give-and-take an interview requires. I left the place within 25 minutes and returned home, where my husband, Mark, had begun the day’s interior sanding and painting — a project for our fall vacation week.

I broke the news to him, turned on the boom box for updates, and changed into my painting clothes. He sat on one of two kitchen chairs not covered in plastic and silently listened, the broadcast echoing slightly in the almost-empty room. My intuitive older cat, Zinc, leapt onto my shoulders as I brushed paint against the walls and heard unending reports from New York City, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. It was mind-numbing. Painting seemed ludicrous, a joyless effort. My cat’s warmth was real and reassuring.

We were grateful to be spared the relentless, repeated television images of the attacks.

I never did return to that mail-order company to finish my interview. Six months later, I had made the transition to self-employment, writing and editing copy for businesses and occasionally doing some freelance reporting. I’ve worked happily from my home office, but I’ve learned it — and my home — cannot be a sanctuary from the world. I read the news in the morning now and keep a much more critical eye on our government’s actions, outside and within our borders.

Honoring a name

By Waleed Al-Shamma

It was a day like any other, as has been said a thousand times before. I remember coming downstairs as I was preparing to go to school. I was a fifth year junior studying business, something I was deeply dispassionate about. I walked into the living room to find my roommate watching the news. It was rather unusual to see him awake that early, particularly since he had stayed the night at his girlfriend’s house the night before. He was watching CNN, again a little unusual. The footage was of one of the twin towers in New York burning, wreckage falling to the ground. My immediate thought was, “Oh great, what Schwarzenegger movie is coming out now?” As I recall, I said something to that effect to my roommate. To which he responded, “No, this is real. This really just happened, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.”

I sat down and began watching with him in disbelief. There was an eerie silence between us as we were both glued to the television. Then the second plane hit. Speculation faded, this was not an accident. This was a deliberate act. Though this word has often been thrown around with an ignorant, almost flippant attitude, for 10 years since, this truly was terrorism. I went upstairs in shock to finish getting ready for school. I remember crying in the shower and praying to a God I wasn’t sure existed, praying that the perpetrators of this attack were not Arabs, not Muslims. I guess I knew right away that they were.

As the days and weeks went on and we all kept wondering if and when there was going to be another attack, I was also wondering what this would mean for Muslim Americans, Arab Americans, or, sadly, Americans with darker skin of ambiguous racial backgrounds. I remember President Bush having astronomical approval ratings, north of 90 percent. I was never fond of his views or his methods, but I too was struggling to find fault. We were hurting, and we looked to our leaders to heal us. I remember him encouraging us to go shopping. I thought, “really, that’s your solution?” I also remember him explicitly telling Americans to be calm and tolerant toward fellow Muslim Americans, that these terrorists weren’t true Muslims, and that the United States was not at war with Islam. That’s one of the very few moments I can ever remember being proud of my president during the Bush years. What would follow was nearly a decade of squandered opportunity.

The war in Afghanistan was predictable, if not even a little justifiable, as much as any war can be. We were out for retribution and, in spite of my pacifist ways, I was ambivalent. On the one hand, I knew that war was not going to solve our problems and may well exacerbate them. On the other hand, there would be no love lost if someone skinned bin Laden alive and fed him to the sharks. My biggest problem was, and I suppose remains, that no one in the mainstream media or in Washington, D.C. was willing to have an honest conversation about our government’s role in fostering the animosity behind the terrorists. There is never an excuse for what they did, but I believe it is incumbent upon us to ask why they did it. “They hate our freedom” is an absurd answer. Ani Defranco nailed it in her poem entitled “Self Evident” scarcely two weeks after 9/11. Outside of the shunned or ignored Ron Paul, there is still no voice as honest about our role, our foreign policy.

Ten years later, upon reflection, I guess I am remiss that we have done little to understand. We remain woefully ignorant about the rest of the world. Our role as arbiters in the Arab-Israeli conflict is shamefully biased, such that the fallow peace of the holy land shows no signs of even being planted, much less taking root. Americans are as uninformed as ever about Islam, a religion with deep roots in Christianity, and we continue to spread misinformation while switching seats when possible. Osama bin Laden was no more a Muslim than Adolf Hitler was a Christian. Just because those are labels they applied to themselves, does not make them true or acceptable to the community at large.

The first 23 years of my life, I went primarily by “Wally”, a nickname provided thoughtfully by my Syrian-born father and American-born mother to help me fit in and honor my maternal grandfather. A few days after 9/11, I began introducing myself more and more as “Waleed,” my full given name. In certain situations it has made me nervous, but I felt it was more important to open up an otherwise strange, foreign world and culture to people in whatever little way I could. This has grown easier for me over the past decade and I am hopeful that as the names and customs of peace loving Muslims and Arabs grow more familiar to the average American, perhaps their acceptance and understanding will too.

Torture of repetition

By Jacob Wheeler

(from an email written in stream of consciousness days after 9/11)

I was sitting in a newsroom office in Copenhagen, Denmark (just before 3 p.m. in the afternoon in Europe) when the news flashed across my computer screen that two airplanes had hit the World Trade Center … and I immediately realized that two coincidences like that don’t just happen when the work day begins. I heard a succession of grunts from co-workers — most of whom had friends and colleagues in New York — and when I walked out of my office to share the news, I was met halfway with gasps that the Pentagon had been hit too … and that even a fourth airplane had crashed. Was this a Hollywood movie? I didn’t remember buying my ticket or purchasing popcorn.

I sat down at my computer again, watching the New York Times webpage struggle to load, as I sifted through the news in real time and grasped the significance and severity with each word. There was no pundit’s analysis and no defiant politician to bundle it in a nutshell yet — just a domino effect that worsened with each update … until the Twin Towers fell down on thousands of people. The president was in a Florida classroom, the country in a coma, and only that videotape of the second airplane from Boston, cruising in from the left side of the screen — a two-winged shadow straightening itself out at the last instant and cutting gracefully into a skyscraper next to the one already smoking — only that video to accompany us through the first hours.

Again, in from the left side of the screen, a two-winged shadow straightening itself out at the last instant and searing gracefully into the World Trade Center: a bird, which sees something of interest inside the house and fails to notice a window in the way, isn’t that the one we buried in the garden when I was 6?

Again, in from the left side of the screen, a two-winged shadow straightening itself out (do we know what’s really happening?) at the last instant and plunging. WAIT, no sign of the plane for a split second, it must have never happened. An Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in which the hero majestically casts the errant plane away from the skyscraper and saves the city! But wait, there’s the equal and opposite reaction learned in physics class, as the plane becomes a fireball emerging from the right side of the building.

The screams of people on the street, the CNN news correspondent in a three-piece suite, meticulously picked out of his closet the night before and laid on the dresser because nothing surprises this ace. But what’s this? He was just responding to the newsroom alert call after the first plane hit at 8:45. Is the video recorder on repeat mode? Stop playing it OVER, AND OVER, AND OVER again.

Again, in from the left, STOP! The update now is only a looming, surreal voice I might have heard or I might only have imagined while I was sleeping, hovering above me during a jetlag-induced afternoon nap. Pentagon, hit … plane in Pennsylvania, down … Bush, the opportunist president, talking to elementary school kids in Florida 10 months after his highway robbery … in hiding now as the world crumbles in a nuclear winter cloud of asbestos and smoke and jet fuel, or at least for a dozen big-city blocks in each direction. What, in hiding? What, Air Force One disappeared? … bunker in Berlin, shot in the head, Thousand Year Rei … the Russians, warships moving across the board nearing Cuba … this isn’t a boardga … grassy knoll, it came from the grassy … no, couldn’t have been an echo … the bullet, no the plane, came from the left!!!

The pounding in my stomach does not subside, but increases instead with each replay of the awful video. Pain creeps down my sweaty body and now it hits me in the crotch every time that plane enters the screen. Can’t breath. Need to cry, need tears, but there’s no oxygen to feed my fire. My father spoke of this throbbing pain whenever he watched the unforgiving Zapruder film of Kennedy’s head exploding in the motorcade in Dallas. Said he cursed, and had to leave “JFK” in the theater. Damn you, Oliver Stone. He was 12, and remembers sitting at the neighbor’s swimming pool, when he learned that the president had been killed.

And now my generation has our where-were-you-when-it-happened traumatic moment.

This exclusive is sponsored by Deering’s Market, open year-round in downtown Empire.