Tuesday, September 11, 2007

From 9/11 to 5768

It's a rainy day in New York City this September 11th, six years after the 9/11. Every anniversary of that day of death and destruction is sad, but this year the heavens seemed to have opened up to add their tears to our own terrestrial ones. I'm not going to try to duplicate or imitate the mainstream media coverage of the anniversary, or include photographs as reminders of that day. It's all burned into our memories, I would think, and if not, that material is readily available elsewhere. And as with all things, so much emphasis and repetition starts to drain events and memories of their meaning.

Instead, I went back through my e-mail messages to find the ones I posted on the media ecology listserv at that time (this was before we switched over to our current ibiblio.org host). I found that I had posted the following message to our virtual community on the evening of September 11th, 2001, at 8:00 PM, with the subject line simply reading WTC:

I heard the first report in New Jersey on the car radio, newsradio
broadcasters talking to eyewitnesses by telephone. At first, they thought
it might have been an accident. During one conversation, the second plane
hit, and they weren't sure what happened, whether it was an explosion, or
a helicopter that got too close. I saw the plumes of smoke where the
World Trade Center used to be. I can't believe the twin towers are just

I know there are people on this list who were much closer to ground zero,
and I pray they are all well.

The video footage is unbelievable. I can't help noticing the similarities
it has with films like Independence Day, and I wonder if our
computer-generated disasters didn't somehow play a role in making this
nightmare manifest. MSNBC had a background visual, behind two separate
windows, that repeated the collapse of the 2nd building over and over every
few seconds, and I found it nauseating. So much slick video, all the
"America Under Attack" logos, so soon into the special disaster coverage!
And so many cable channels like MTV turning their programming over to
network news. Local coverage dominated the NYC network stations, so it
was good to get the big picture from these other stations' network feeds.

So much on technology here. Skyscrapers, jets, cell phone calls from
hostages, the loss of local broadcasting with the collapse of the 2nd
tower, but not cable, and UHF stations, many public, broadcasting the feeds
of the major stations. Telephone service disrupted. And the Internet all
but unaffected! Perhaps it really could withstand a nuclear attack. Maybe
the terrorists are attacking the wrong target?

I just heard the local CBS station reporting on significant people on the 4
flights. Everyone named was from TV or professional sports.
Media/celebrity logic. The lack of information on casualties is chilling.

They just reported that police stopped a truck filled with explosives
under the George Washington Bridge.

I'd welcome seeing others' accounts and reactions.

I found another message to the listserv dated September 16th, 2001, which began:

I am still in shock, and have had a hard time doing much else than watch
the television coverage these past days.
I then mentioned some of the people we knew who had been lost, which I am going to omit here. The rest of the message went as follows:

The local coverage has devoted considerable time to
the desparate family members and friends who are searching for their loved
ones, describing them, displaying flyers and pictures, pleading for
information. It is heartbreaking.

Flags are being displayed everywhere now. We had two, so we put them up on
the front and side of our house. The thick black smoke that replaced the
twin towers in the skyline that we see from across the Hudson has faded to
a thinner, white cloud. Commercials are being reintroduced, along with
regular television programming. Is this the all-clear signal?

I posted a poem on my MySpace poetry blog about 9/11, and you can click here to go that page and see it in that context, in its proper layout (which I wasn't able to duplicate here because blogger doesn't have the indent commands that MySpace does) along with the comments people posted about it there, and my responses. But I'm going to include it here as well:

what followed

following the shock and the panic
the desperate race to collect the children
and huddle together in what once was
the safety of the home
the black curtain of smoke
rising in the distance
the horror replaying replaying replaying on TV
(but cable only, the networks knocked off the air)

following the exodus, stuck in traffic
the tiny sliver of an island sealed off
like some bad sci fi movie

following the chaos and the confusion
the mad rush to the supermarket
the cries of disbelief and anger
the first of many tears

following the day of madness

came a long moment of silence
a time of stillness
a quiet never known before
in the city of cities
no cars on the road
no planes overhead
no people rushing to work, or play
the ever-present buzz was gone
the white noise replaced by black silence

and all that could be heard
was a whispered accounting:

one brother
one husband
one son


On September 17, 2001 (which was my 44th birthday), I posted another message to the listserv:

There were a lot of tears in Temple tonight as we observed the beginning of
the year 5762, a span of time that roughtly coincides with the entirety of
the history of writing, of written history, and of what we at times call
the history of civilization. It is customary to say at this time, may
you be inscribed in the book of life for the coming year, and I can think
of no better wish to send out to you all than this. Live, that we may
reverse eviL.

As I recall, my colleague Paul Thaler, then from Mercy College, now at Adelphi University, liked that last line, "Live, that we may reverse eviL," (without the final capital "L") so much that he quoted it in his keynote address at the New York State Communication Association's annual conference.

This year, Rosh Hashanah begins tomorrow evening, September 12th, 2007, and it represents, again, a very welcome affirmation of life following this day of mourning and remembrance. The new year will be 5768, and while Rosh Hashanah is a religious holiday for the Jewish people, the Jewish New Year, it is also considered the birthday of the world, and in a sense belongs to everyone. And this oldest of calendars, as old as writing itself, also belongs to all of humanity. Plus, in our new age, where among other things, Kabbalah is embraced by many non-Jews, this is a time of hope and reflection that all can share in.

We are accustomed to a calendar where the old year ends and the new one begins shortly after the winter solstice, and we therefore employ metaphors where spring represents youth, and winter old age. But the Jewish calendar represents an alternate way of punctuating and representing the solar cycle, one that is not entirely alien as it also coincides with what we refer to as the school year, which begins in the fall, climaxes, in a sense towards the end of spring, and tapers off in summer.

With all that in mind, I wrote another poem where I tried to capture that different sense of the yearly cycle, and to personify it. I used subtle references to the Jewish calendar and holidays, so as to leave the sense of spirituality open to interpretation, allowing non-Jews to relate to this more easily than would be possible if I had been more specific. Again, you can click here to see it on my other blog, along with comments, but I will also include it below:

Head First

Head first, she emerges
newly born from the womb of eternity,
takes a breath, and trumpets her arrival,
crying, here I am, here I am!

Her name is carved
on the great Tree of Life,
whose trunk is a winding,
ever-widening scroll,
and so begins the cycle of renewal,
first days, a time of awe, and reflection,
summer's end, and lessons newly begun.

The infant suckles honeyed milk
at her mother's tabernacle breast,
she is fed from the first harvest,
meals prepared for her in the year now gone,
she is schooled in ancient, sacred knowledge,
beginning in the beginning with the very first utterance,
she learns the secrets of the ox-house line.

In winter, she comes of age,
it is a time of trials,
as she takes her place,
a daughter, dutiful and diligent,
kindling lights to defend against the darkness,
conquering the cold night with courage and compassion,
now sound, and strong, in mind, and soul, and heart.

Come spring, and she is crowned as Queen,
rejoicing as the waters part to let her pass,
celebrating freedom and fertility,
delighting in life,
reveling in sacrament,
entering into the covenant of love,
sowing seeds for the harvest to come,
consecrating herself to the future's conception,
she is eager to bear her burden.

As summer arrives, weariness sets in,
she feels heavy with the passing of days,
sadness for all that she has left behind,
but, as well, she feels the warmth of wisdom, and
contentment with all that she has achieved, and accomplished.

It is time to slow down, to rest,
to prepare for the final labors,
so that she may welcome
the daughter, yet unborn,
who will take her autumnal turn,
head first, into creation.

And so, on this sad day, I want to wish everyone a good year, a sweet year, a happy and healthy year, and as we say on Rosh Hashanah: May you be inscribed in the book of life for another year!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And also to you friend.