Where Were You?

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I can count on one hand the number of events in our culture that were so important that it seems everyone remembers where they were at the time. The assassination of JFK is one, though I was only a few months old at the time so I was probably spitting up baby cereal all over my mother’s dress. I don’t really remember that.

The day that John Lennon was shot is one that I remember vividly. My friend Louie and I were driving in his ’66 Volvo over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco listening to the radio, and every station was playing the Beatles or John Lennon. We went from curious amusement at the synchronicity of it all, to wondering whether there was some anniversary going on, to suspecting that something really bad had happened, all while suspended over the Bay in that white car. It’s funny how once you reach that state of feeling like something terrible has happened, there’s no going back to the detached amusement. You really have to find out whether your fears are correct.

In this century, the event to be remembered is the falling of the twin towers. I have had such a strong reaction about how the tragedy has been manipulated by the forces of deception in our government that I have not been able to speak about it personally. I leave the room when others are talking about it, because I can’t stand to hear anyone echoing my own complaints. I feel we have all been slimed in our grief, and instead of talking about our experiences and listening to the experiences of others, we are all ranting and raving about politics. But now with Karl Rove teetering on the brink of justice, I’m feeling this breath of fresh air that allows me to think about and process my own experience of that fateful day in peace.

I got up that morning, got the kids off to school, packed my gi bag and headed for the dojo. It was Tuesday morning and I was looking forward to one of my favorite aikido classes, taught by my friend and sensei David Keip. I got out on the mat with the others, and before we all bowed in David said, “Let’s take a few moments of silence and extend energy to those who have been hit by the tragedy this morning.” I leaned over to James who was sitting next to me and whispered, “What tragedy?” He told me that an airplane had rammed into the World Trade Center. That little bit of detail helped me imagine where and to what I was extending my energy that morning. Then, without further talk, we bowed in and began training.

As I moved around the mat that morning, I remember feeling open to the waves of emotion that were circling the globe at that time. Group mind is a powerful force, and though I didn’t know exactly what was going on, I knew it was big, and I was so grateful to be there on the mat practicing letting the life force flow through me, and joining with the life force of my training partners in graceful non-violence. In fact, as the morning progressed I remember that being the crystallizing principle of our training: how to respond to conflict in ways that do not perpetuate the harm being done. I need to practice that every day, it is so easy for me to slide into acrimony and small-mindedness.

We can’t spend all day at the dojo, though. And the larger aikido is the act of constantly returning to center and embodying the principles of love and harmony no matter what training partners life throws at us. On the way home, the first thing I did was turn on KPFA to get the news. Suddenly, I was in the media stream, and there was no going back to my moments of peace in conflict I’d experienced earlier. I heard what had happened, and heard the first calls of conspiracy from the far Left. Then I went home and turned on the TV, where I heard the first voices of terrorist fear from the far Right. Disgusted by the instant spin, sickened by tragedy, and completely off-center, I turned off everything and tried to work. But there was no working that day. I don’t imagine that more than a dozen or so people in the entire nation were able to actually be productive that day.

The thought which stayed with me then was that the whole thing was a horror we were just going to have to live through, day by wrenching day, and there wasn’t a thing any of us could do to change that. It has gotten very, very ugly in this country in the years since 9/11. Today might be the first day since then that I’ve caught a whiff of hope: maybe the liars will come toppling down, as they all did during Watergate. Maybe the bad news will stop being so relentless. Maybe this terrible national insanity towards the environment and other nations will start to shift, and the burden of awareness of what is happening in our names will be easier for us to bear.

One thought on “Where Were You?

  1. Reya

    We heard the plane crash into the Pentagon, even from here on Capitol Hill. It was loud (the dog crawled under the bed in fear). It took awhile that morning for me to figure out what was happening. I’d been talking to my friend Jack in New York, who had the tV on and reported the first crash into the towers. We’d been talking about the Civil War, about what it would take to get brothers to fight against brothers. We’d been talking about what it takes to get human beings to become soldiers when the first crash occurred.

    After the phone call and the sound of the crashing plane, I ventured out to go to work. I couldn’t believe the traffic, couldn’t believe how many people were walking the streets down by the Capitol. In fact, I got all the way to work before I heard that the second tower had fallen, and this was indeed a terrorist attack.

    There was no traffic on the way home. My roommate and I sat and watched the footage of the falling towers in NY all day. We made comfort food (roasted chicken and potato salad). Two days later I bought the first television I’ve ever owned.

    After that, life on Capitol Hill changed drastically. All the open buildings were closed, security checkpoints were set up, tons of ugly construction began at all the memorials and public buildings. It was the beginning of the end of this empire in many ways. September 11 was an awful day I’ll never forget.

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