Thursday, September 15, 2011

Because We Care

I was talking to one of my co-workers recently. As I mentioned recently, the department has been gutted, so there's not a lot of us left and we're all dejected.

There was some material that went out and it wasn't up to our usual standards. It was terrible. A typo, poor wording, just not our typical quality. My co-worker is pretty frustrated about how far we've fallen.

But she turned to me and she said, " I don't know why I still care. I should be numb to all this. I shouldn't care anymore."

But yet, she still cares. Even though most of my department has one foot out the door, even though some of us (not me!) have been surfing job postings during our work hours, we still care. She is a dedicated worker, a gifted writer, a perfectionist. But the controls have been taken out of our hands. Other people are making the decisions for us, and the decisions are terrible.

But we still care. We're humans. We care about the work we do. We care about what goes out with our name on it. We - and I'm talking about my co-workers - are passionate about their work and it hurts to see poor quality product going out. So we fight our battles, and we argue with our superiors, and we complain behind the scenes when the decisions don't go our way. But we still care.

We could walk away, but there's something in all of us that is still hopeful that even though the iceberg has struck, even though the hull is taking on water, that the ship will be righted. We are hopeful. We have to be.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11-01 - The Aftermath

It seemed to take the entire day on September 11 before we understood everything that had happened. Wild rumors filled the air. There was a car bomb at the Department of State, a fire at the Pentagon (that was the third plane), attacks on the White House. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, no instant news alerts via email. CNN's website crashed multiple times on 9-11 until they stripped it down to an all-text bulletin page. I kept trying to get the correct details. I wanted to know exactly where the plane hit the Pentagon, how many people were on board the planes, where they flew from, how they had been taken. What had happened in Pennsylvania.

I flew a month afterward. I had to go to Chicago for a conference. They had ratcheted down security so tightly that the lines to board planes went all the way out of O'Hare Airport and back around through another door. I remember seeing National Guardsmen patrolling the airport in camouflage, rifles strapped to their chests, at the ready.

September 11 really threw me out of my orbit. I couldn't stop listening to the news. Something about the way I had found out about the attacks after they were in progress got to me. I wanted to know when the next attacks were happening. Especially if they were going to be happening on the west coast. (Years later, it was revealed that the plan was to attack targets on both coasts, and that one of the potential targets was the tallest building in Seattle.)

I couldn't turn off the news. I watched the national news every night - something that I never did before. I became depressed, haunted, fearful. I worked in downtown Seattle, and we have an airport ten miles away, so planes fly over the city constantly. For months, every time I saw a plane flying near one of the tall buildings, I would watch it until I saw that it passed the building and didn't fly into it.

I ended up going into therapy, and I was taking medications for a while until I was able to regain control. But I still look periodically when a plane is flying low over the Seattle skyline.

About my girlfriend? Well, in September 2001, I had started saving up for an engagement ring. In November, at our favorite Brazilian restaurant, I fell to one knee and asked her to marry me. We've been married nine years. We're happy.

I'm not going to talk about the war on terror, or about homeland security, or about politics. I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the effect of this on me, because this was an attack on us. This affected all of us, as a people, as a society, as a generation. We have survived, but we are not the same, and we may never be. The world into which my son was born is different than the one I used to live in, in so many ways. I hope his world learns to move past fear, past anger, past hatred. I want him to grow up full of hope, not full of fear. That's the world I'm trying to create for him.

9-11-01 - That Day

My brother, who was kind enough to let me stay in his apartment, woke up shortly after the tv went on. He heard me pacing back and forth. "What's going on?" I think I gave him a brief synopsis, or maybe I just pointed at the screen, at the Towers on fire.

At some point, the towers collapsed. I didn't realize that this was going on. It seemed impossible, despite the flames and the impact of a fully loaded commercial airplane. How could one of the World Trade Centers just collapse to the ground? I thought it was part of one floor, or a facade or something. But not the whole building. My brain refused to process it until later, when I saw the collapse over and over and over again.

I went to my doctor's appointment. It was shockingly quiet. We all felt like we wanted to be elsewhere, with families, with loved ones. The radio was on in the background.

Then I went to work. The office, full of social justice activists, was a mix of shock, fear, and rage. A co-worker told me, resignedly, "This is going to be bad, man. There's gonna be a war." I knew she was right.

I worked with people who knocked on doors and called people and asked them to contribute to the fight for social justice. There was no canvassing to be done on that day. No one would answer the phone, we knew, and no one would dare answer their door, especially if it meant stepping away from the television. The office was closed for the day.

I went to find my girlfriend, who was also home from work. We watched tv for hours and hours. Peter Jennings manned the ABC front desk for an eternity, showing impressive dedication and only occasionally letting his own churning emotions show through. I grew to love Peter Jennings for what he did that day. We sat and soaked in the overwhelming news of the day, unable to move, unable to believe what had happened.

But I kept seeing the parade of Bush-appointed officials across the screen - Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft. I remember thinking that if this was going to be war, if we were truly under attack, these were not people that I trusted. I didn't trust them with our country. I didn't have faith that they would watch our best interests. I was right, I'm sad to say.

We lived in Seattle, which was now considered a possible secondary target. We were a major city on the west coast, with a critical port and major technology companies in our area. Strikes on the East Coast and the West Coast seemed a distinct possibility. This idea haunted me for weeks - months - afterward, the idea that I lived in a city that could be described as "potential target of terrorism." We had already had our brush with terrorism in 1999 when Ahmed Ressam was arrested, claiming he was part of a plot to blow up Los Angeles' airport.

We went out to dinner that night at a pizza place in the University District, one of the few restaurants that was open. The owner was from the Middle East - Lebanese? I can't remember. But I remember he said that we would now understand what the rest of the world felt. I was surprised at his blunt statement. He was right, of course. For much of the world - England, Europe, Africa, Russia, South America - terrorism had happened in their country and was expected to happen again. They understood that they were vulnerable. Americans had always believe that they were untouchable. Our sense of safety had been obliterated.

I also remember thinking - and maybe I said this out loud to him - that he should be careful saying things like this out loud. Emotions were running high, and statements like that could be interpreted as support for the attack. Of course that's not what he was saying. He was just expressing a statement of fact. But people don't always react well when their sense of reality has been shattered. People who feel under attack can lash out in the worst and most unAmerican ways. We all found that out, as a nation, as the aftermath of Sept. 11 unfolded.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9-11-01 - How It Started

I was sleeping. I was so busy - I had three events in four weeks to help organize. I think I had an event that morning. I know I had a doctor's appointment. There was something - a hand cramp, something - I wanted to see a doctor about.

I was awakened by the phone. My girlfriend of 11 months - who would become my wife the next year - was on the other end.

"Are you listening to the news?" We were both NPR junkies. I didn't want to tell her that I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

"No," I answered.

"You'd better turn it on." There was a tone in her voice that I'd never heard before.

I turned it on. I listened, baffled and scared.

Then I turned on the television, and watched the unbelievable, undeniable images. I turned on the computer, turned on the internet connection, opened CNN's website. It was slow to load, because everyone was doing what I was doing.

That was how the day began for me. How did it start for you?