Today is 9/11. Joe Biden and Mike Pence were at Ground Zero this morning. Needless to say, they were not standing together. Biden walked over to Pence and tapped him on the shoulder. They had been colleagues in Congress. They elbow bumped. Maybe Joe Biden is the only person who still believes that it is possible for people to come together in this country. What he did today (you can be darn sure that Pence wouldn’t have initiated either the greeting or the bump) is demonstration that he might indeed be able to help us manifest the reconciliation we long for. In the meantime…
A different conflagration on 9/11
by Ruth Neuwald Falcon, Seattle, Washington
I feel done in. Drained. Exhausted. Ungrounded. I am reminded of the time I took the two big dogs for a walk after an earthquake in California. The huge eucalyptus trees that grew along the sides of the dirt road on which we lived no longer seemed solid. I was viscerally aware that I couldn’t trust them to stay where they were. Nor could I trust the very ground beneath my feet. I had never had such an experience before.
New York is solid; it conveys permanence. Then came 9/11. When I went back for a visit after that, I recognized, also viscerally, that the solidity and permanence were illusory in a way I hadn’t understood before. Walking east on 57th Street from 6th Avenue over to 5th, I saw the vulnerability of the familiar buildings. Just because they had been there for my entire life, didn’t mean that they would still be there the next time I went home. I could come back some day and they could be gone. I have seen, of course, images of bombed out cities, from London to Berlin, but they always seem far away, in time as well as in place. Hiroshima. Beirut.
Now, even the postal service has been undermined and politicized, an institution we have always been able to count on.
Yesterday afternoon’s notification from the Washington Emergency Management Division said: There is a super massive cloud of smoke outside of California and Oregon. The wind is changing direction and it’s coming your way tomorrow. You have today to prepare. Let your family and friends know. Go shopping for any essentials today. If you don’t have to go out tomorrow, stay home. A little before midnight, the message on my weather app changed from Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups to Unhealthy. Tonight, it says, Very Unhealthy Air Quality, no modifiers.
This morning, I got up, and then, ten minutes later, lay down again, something I never do unless I’m sick. I lay holding the giant stuffed dog my daughter-in-law and grandkids gave me two years ago for my birthday. The kids both had their own versions of this dog and my appreciation for it had been noted. It sprang out of a nondescript box, startling and delighting me. I lay drifting with my eyes closed for at least an hour.
Then the phone rang. I considered not answering it, but, after all, where else would I be but home on this day when we have all, not just the sensitive ones among us, been told to stay home with everything closed up. It was my friend Ruth Fast. Just the sound of her strong voice jolted some life back into me. She commiserated with me, saying one friend told her it feels like Armageddon. Trump is the worst plague of them all, she said. I don’t understand his followers. You’ve seen it before, I replied. Yes, she said. I’ve seen it before. Then, in response to my saying, Every now and then one has to fall apart, I could hear her mentally shake herself. I don’t have time to fall apart, she said. I have my sechel and, at least until now, I could go out for a walk by the creek. We just have to keep going and get through it.
Sechel is both a Hebrew and a Yiddish word. “It can mean intelligence, smarts, brains, reason, common sense, cleverness or even wisdom.”
Ruth is 100 years old. She escaped from Nazi Germany in her teens. When we got off the phone, I got up and, this time, I stayed up.