: There is one image of September 11th that I have said I could not and would not talk about:
The image is too awful to recall, too painful to relate, even now, three years later. Instead, I remember the sounds: the sudden and horrifying realization of what we were witnessing heard through the airless, paralyzed gasps all around; the terrible sound that punctuated each life; the stifled, staccato screams then.
The falling is the worst of it for me.
Perhaps that’s because I have always had a crippling fear of falling. I can’t watch a movie or so much as hear a story about heights and edges without being overcome by involuntary cause and effect: palms drenched, heart crazed, adrenalin abundant, nerves arcing. We all fear our own worst death. Mine has always been falling.
And so you see, the worst thing about that day is not what happened to me, but what didn’t happen to me, what happened to so many so close that could have so easily happened to me. But it didn’t.
They fell, God rest their souls. I did not.
And ever since that day, I have lived in a limbo. I realize now that it has felt as if I have been falling all this time. I’m a third of the way down the giant tower. I can’t scream. All I can hear is the woosh of wind and jets and fire and speed; that sound is deafening and blocks out every other sense. And yet I’m not really moving. I’m paralyzed. Just falling.
The fall never ends.
Another year comes and I take stock and that doesn’t take long, for I haven’t moved and sometimes I fear we have not, either. My own stock-taking is my business and I’ll not bore or burden you with it; you shouldn’t care, frankly. But our stock-taking as a nation and as a civilized half of the world is troubling this year, for we are fighting with each other, not with our enemy.
And that enemy has only dug down to new depths of atrocity: from jets filled with innocents killing innocents, down to children strapped up as bombs, down to bombs in backpacks on trains, down to beheadings on video, down to schoolchildren captured and killed. They fall deeper and deeper into hell.
And we just yell at each other: left v. right, Kerry v. Bush, Swift v. Kerry, Moore v. Bush, France v. America, America v. France, Iraqi v. Iraqi, damned near everybody v. Israel…. We fight all the wrong fights and wrong enemies and meanwhile let our real enemies invent new evil and drag us down with them.
We’re all falling.
You’d think by now that I’d start to be feeling better, that we all would. Time heals, no?
No. Time hides.
Just look at the scabs of Vietnam: Scrape them today and they ooze and hurt. Amazingly, even Zell Miller’s accent at the RNC brought out a few pokes to the scars of the Civil War. Hell, let’s not stop there: All this we’re fighting about traces back to the Crusades and the odd old war in the allegedly Holy Land and, sure, Cain and Abel, while we’re at it.
You’d think by now we’d be learning. But we’re forgetting.
We’re forgetting the horror and anger and resolve of that day. How could we?
Oh, but I forget, too. Last weekend, I shuddered when I realized that this coming Saturday was the anniversary already. It used to be — right here in this weblog — that I counted the days, then weeks, then months, yet now I’m losing track of the years.
And that is why I will return to the scene on Saturday. I didn’t even have to tell my wife that I would; she already knew it.
I have to go back to remember so I can begin to forget, so I can snap out of this and end the paralysis and accomplish something real and decent again: So I can stop the fall.
I wish we would all go back to remember this Saturday, so we can forget the foul temper we are in as a nation and remember instead who our enemy is — and who his enemy is — and what our duty to our children must be.
Because the image I truly fear is not the image of what I saw that day but the image of what has yet to happen if we continue to fight among ourselves, if we continue to fall.