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calendar   Sunday - September 11, 2005

The Day The Music Died

The following is a reprint of the award-winning essay from our “Memories Of 9/11 Essay Contest” held in the Spring of 2004. The author is Dawn Gale Prince and our readers here decided her essay best described how we all felt on that day, four long years ago ....

“The End Of The Innocence”

imageimageThe summer of 2001 has just ended, and fall hangs thickly in the air threatening to take away the innocence of the summer which is still clinging to September. This Tuesday morning begins like any other day. It is September 11 and, it holds no particular meaning for me. Nothing’s marked on my calendar. I open up the supermarket and greet the odd customer on this bright, unimposing morning. The Toronto radio station plays that top 40 morning repetitious easy listening music. I groan at hearing yet another Celine Dion or Mariah Carey song--what ever is the hit of the moment. We are carrying out the mundane morning duties of readying for the day’s business when a customer walks in and says that a plane has hit the World Trade Center in New York. “It is probably nothing-you know the media…” he says on his way out. It is just after nine o’clock.

imageimageHis words are barely cold in the air when the song on the radio is interrupted with a bulletin that confirms the skeptical customer’s news. There isn’t much detail. I think that maybe a small plane has veered off course. It is then confirmed that it is a passenger plane, and my mind reacts like the terrified flyer that I am--wondering about what must have gone through the passengers’ minds as they crashed. Those poor people, their family. Last minute calls. These things happen. It is still that ordinary everyday reaction you have when you hear of a plane crash. Again, the music ends abruptly: another plane has crashed into the Trade Center . The mood in the supermarket goes from nonchalant to tense. The queasy feeling that something horrible is unfolding begins to form in the pit of my stomach. I say horrible, but I don’t know what it is. I think mad men or high-jackers. We hang onto every word from the radio. Planes are missing--high-jacked in the air; airspace being locked down. The news keeps coming in like that…piling pieces of the puzzle into the jumble faster than one has a chance to catch his breath. It is now evident that the simple plane crash theory is something more urgent. Something more sinister is in the air.

imageimageIt has to be personal. The World Trade Center--a symbol of America--as much as Lady Liberty--attacked on its own turf. Presumptuous and pointed. World War III comes to mind. Some crazy bastard must have pushed the button somewhere and some kind of war has started. Something big is happening, and I feel immobilized because the reasons for the catastrophe are unknown. The play by play on the radio is flat because what the DJ is saying just seems so unbelievable. I can’t paint a picture in my head because her words seem unremarkable as she describes in this monotone radio voice about the havoc and chaos that is taking place in the American airspace. She relates what she sees on television and it sounds spectacular…110 story inferno...the way they used that word spectacular to describe a horrible inferno on the television. I always thought that it was an odd word to use…the kind of word you would use to describe a sporting event. But, what she is saying cannot be described in any other way, but spectacular. The estimation that there may be as many as 50,000 people in the tower is a blow to my senses. I can’t imagine that. I can’t compute or comprehend those numbers that represents somebody’s life.

imageimagePeople pour into the supermarket like they have to get out of the house and tell someone the horror they have just witnessed to make it real for them. It is like a movie, they keep saying. Just when I am getting over the shock of the crashing planes, news of the first Trade Center tower collapse blindsides me like a blow to the gut. I imagine a 110 story tower collapsing with over 50, 000 people inside. I lose all track of time as it all seems muddled in no particular order. My mind can’t separate any of it. I can’t isolate the horror and make it real for my mind. My head is full of warbled words--words that don’t quite form the pictures because they are so outlandish. I think this is what it may have been like during World Wars I and II where people sat around listening to the radio--waiting for news--hearing gossip, innuendos. But, the radio alone can’t make it real for my brain. I have to see it for myself. I live across the street from the supermarket and so, I take my break.

imageimageInside my apartment, the sun illuminates the dust that’s settled on my television screen. I think: I have to dust, and turn on NBC just in time to see the second tower crumble like a block of Leggo’s. It stuns my brain. My hand goes over my mouth in an audible gasp. I think I am going to have an asthma attack. Quietly, the tears come and seep through closed fingers as I try to catch my breath. I want to tell somebody, but I am frozen, glued to the floor in my summer sandals…and watch in slow-motion as New York disintegrates into nothingness right before my eyes. It looks like an implosion that is deliberately calculated. I am ringing my hands and wailing, “oh, my God, oh my God” in rasping breath as I watch the replay of the second tower collapse. I imagine frantic calls to loved ones before the towers were pushed to their deaths swallowing innocent lives in its gaping belly. I imagine claustrophobic breathing in crowded stairwells. I imagine trains of thought of the desperate--their life and times flashing before their eyes--finally coming to terms that this may be the end. I imagine the end.

imageimageThis is surreal. Torrid waves of emotions shake my body. I feel scared, horror, shock, helpless, sad and then angry. I cry for all those people. I am angry at no one in particular, but at man’s inhumanity to man. My heart is broken. In my innocence, I somehow, naively, expect more from human beings. My knees shake. I am terrified. The workers from the tall buildings in downtown Toronto are being sent home, and there is fear of Canada being attacked. With the uncertainty of what is going on and who is behind it, this fear is real for me. Television makes it real for us. You don’t have to be in New York to experience the terror or the anger. It isn’t only America ‘s tragedy, but a universal feeling of sadness and anger. Damn them for making us realize our vulnerability. Damn them for sneaking up on us and blindsiding us. Damn them for not looking us in the eye when they stole our innocence. But, who is “them”?

And maybe it is naiveté or innocence on my part--our part, but the idea of terrorism never enters my mind. Terrorism in the broader sense--the foreign concept of suicide bombers is so outrageous in this part of the world. And yet, terrorism on American soil is not foreign. Timothy Mcveigh is home grown terrorism. To be honest, the Trade Center bombing in 1993 has faded from my memory. How many people know that five suspects were each given 240 years for that first attack that killed six people? Our innocence and complacency would not let us believe that that kind of thing can happens in these parts. That happens in somebody else’s backyard. Not on the streets of New York . Not on an ordinary Tuesday morning.

imageimageBut terrorism has come home. New York looks like a war zone. The towers collapse and explode in a burst of white dust--a mushroom cloud of dust that seem to chase terrified people as they try to outrun it to safe ground. It looks like they are racing against a twister. Unrecognizable ghost-like faces and hair aged eerily white with dust and debris. They look like zombies stumbling around--ghosts of themselves roaming the once bustling streets of New York City--a skeletal city full of holes and broken down people. The white dust makes it all eerie. It looks like a make-believe movie set with extras playing the part of feigned horror as they run through the streets. Only no one could write or feign that kind of horror. It reminds of some goddamn Godzilla attacking America movie or some inferno move where Roger Ebert gives the special effects a thumb’s up. This is bigger than a 20 million dollar production. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a test. People are fleeing the city in droves--like survivors of war--the mushroom cloud of dust eerily reminiscent of a nuclear cloud. The frame of thousands walking in quiet stupor as they make their way over that bridge on their way out of New York isolates the numbness of this day.

imageimageIt is all surreal, and amidst all the jagged juxtapositions of whirring sounds and surreal sights--I see unscarred sheets of office paper floating in the midst of disaster--soaring above the dust that rises from the ashes of a city to land ever so gently, in a whisper-- in the rubble of what used to be. Confetti falling--raining down on the streets of New York--the fleeing throng leaving trampled foot prints on perfect paper. Then, the camera pulls back; replaying, rewinding to the moments before the second tower tumbles down, and a small figure tumbles out a window--and another. Maybe, my eyes are playing tricks…all this is television special effects. But, then the voice over says people are jumping out of buildings to their deaths. I imagine terrified hearts and quiet, desperate goodbyes. Frantic telephone calls to loved ones. Terrified of heights, I imagine the horror of having to make that decision. And, I think about the perfect white paper floating and landing ever so gently in a whisper--not with a thud like those flailing, falling bodies--clawing their way at nothingness--trying to hold onto something to save themselves from the confines of the towering inferno. I stand open-mouthed, wondering about the thud the bodies make when they make contact with the cement. The sound in my ear is deafening, but it is all I can hear in my mind--the thud of the bodies as the paper lands ever so gently.

imageimageAs day fades, I remember the events in frames--frozen moments in time--etched in my mind like faded dog-eared memories. Sounds...whirring desperate sounds. Faces. Father Michael F. Judge--a chaplain with the City of New York Fire Department at the scene and then hearing he has died in the second tower collapse. It brings home the abruptness of what has happened. He is there one minute, and then he is gone just like the buildings are there and then gone--leaving gaping holes in the skyline--as if somebody has erased the buildings. This day is not something you can erase. The skyline is missing a piece of its glitter when night envelopes New York City. Night casts an ugly shadow on this devastated city. And you think about the people on the planes, and in the towers as you make contact with your loved ones. Night makes you remember those who aren’t coming home, and those who are waiting eagerly for word on those who did not come home.

By night fall, the reality of the day sinks in as we know more than when this ordinary Tuesday began. The Pentagon has been attacked, the final plane crashes in Philadelphia , and we are all shaking our heads at the carnage left behind. After watching in numb awe, hours and hours of repetitious footage of the most unbelievable spectacular event I have ever witnessed, I allow myself to turn out the lights. I think about how the world has changed in a split second--how the innocence was stolen from under our noses by men with hatred in their hearts. Laying in the dark, I think about the summer. It is comforting thinking about the warm summer. I think about the summer that we are just leaving behind along with our innocence. The day has been emotionally exhausting and sleep comes before the tears dry on my cheeks.

imageimageDawn breaks and the nightmare is real. The line in the American national anthem comes to mind: “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming.” At the twilights last gleaming--before the devastation-- New York City stood proudly, her towers soaring. Now, it looks like a ghost town--full of holes--void of any sort of life--it is as if New York is obliterated and the streets have an eerie air of abandonment. It looks defeated, deflated, devastated. The quiet is deafening, and in your head you can hear echoes of hollow voices and clapping footsteps, but it is only what you remember of New York . Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. The smoke from the burning collapsed towers is still smoldering--rising up slowly--phoenix rising from the ashes--symbolic of a nation that will slowly rise up--tears falling on tired cheeks; teeth gritting; fists pumping; flag waving; the American might a little tattered, but still unwavering as they regroup in resounding echoes of:

“...’Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and home of the brave!”


imageimageAnd, over the next few days, we become familiar with the names of ordinary men and women who are held up as heroes. People helping their fellow man. Corporate America working along side the blue collar regular guy: firefighters, emergency workers. Over the next few days, the human spirit rises up and reclaims man’s natural humanity towards man. New Yorkers rise up and take back their city in memory of their fallen angels--all 3000 of them. And, we become familiar with the evil that exists in the hearts of men. We learn names like Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. We become familiar with a new world. The page has turned to a new chapter in history.

But, it isn’t only America’s soul that is attacked on Tuesday September 11, 2001, but the psyche of an entire world. It isn’t only America’s sorrow, but a world in mourning. A world in mourning of wasted life--of somebody’s brother, somebody mother, somebody’s sister, somebody’s neighbour--somebody who simply went to work on an ordinary Tuesday morning and didn’t come home. It isn’t only America’s innocence that is stolen on a September morning that begins so ordinarily. Collectively--all of our souls die a little, and maybe, we are still waiting for the rebirth of ourselves.

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Copyright © 2004. DGALEP. All rights reserved


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Posted by The Skipper   United States  on 09/11/2005 at 05:00 AM   
Filed Under: • Patriotism •  
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Not that very many people ever read this far down, but this blog was the creation of Allan Kelly and his friend Vilmar. Vilmar moved on to his own blog some time ago, and Allan ran this place alone until his sudden and unexpected death partway through 2006. We all miss him. A lot. Even though he is gone this site will always still be more than a little bit his. We who are left to carry on the BMEWS tradition owe him a great debt of gratitude, and we hope to be able to pay that back by following his last advice to us all:
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Oh, and here's some kind of visitor flag counter thingy. Hey, all the cool blogs have one, so I should too. The Visitors Online thingy up at the top doesn't count anything, but it looks neat. It had better, since I paid actual money for it.
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