I woke up at about 7am in my flat in San Francisco
and already something was strange. As I came to consciousness I realized my girlfriend's mother was leaving a message on our answering machine. This was not that unusual, she often calls really early, but what she was saying was strange. Planes were crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "Things are happening in the world, honey, go turn on the TV, and be careful." Jay's Mom is sort of a neurotic hypochondriac so at first I thought she had just flipped out. But I reached over and turned on the clock radio and listened to the NPR reporters and then I knew it was true.
We're so far away, and I don't know very many people in New York City. So it seemed so unreal as I sat, for the next couple hours, in front of the TV and the computer, reading stories and watching the endlessly looped footage collage of destruction and carnage. A guy on the cyborganic list who used to live in New York started an "ok" list, all the people he knew there were emailing in and he was then posting the list periodically to the mailing list, as well as personal reports from these people. It started to feel more real as I read these, and I felt so much better, somehow more healthy, reading these first-hand accounts, than I felt watching the news on TV.
A few other Cyborganic types in New York reported in, and Wobbly reported that his girlfriend was okay. She worked further uptown at a law firm. She had been working on a brief that was due that day at noon, and she kept working on it just to keep her mind off the horrible events. But then she noticed the clients address was "2 World Trade Center". So I guess it wasn't due at noon anymore....
There wasn't a lot I could do, and I was uncertain how I should go about my day. I thought about giving blood, but found out that the blood banks were all full all over the bay area already.
Other than that and the closure of a few government buildings and the Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco was pretty normal. But after thinking about it I resolved that I would not just go and do what I had been planning to do that day. It was not useful to anyone but myself, but it was a symbolic gesture, to sort of tell myself that I was deeply effected by this.
Since I'm planning to go to Australia next week, I've been reading the Sydney Morning Herald on line. It's fascinating seeing news events through the eyes of another country, and I knew today's events would be no exception. I ended up reading a lot of the Herald's coverage. It was really interesting noting the difference in viewpoint. The way they concentrated on Australian citizens who might have been involved, the story of the Prime Minister who happened to be in Washington, and was evacuated from his hotel to the Australian Embassy for safety.
The Herald also seemed less squeamish, sooner, about reporting the more grisly aspects of the WTC events, for example, witnesses commenting on the sound that bodies made when they hit the street after falling 80 floors. yech.
I began to realize that Americans and especially New Yorkers were now on an end of a spectacular relation that they are not usually on. That is, they were being viewed from far away by the whole world as they lived through this horrible nightmare which had very little tangible effect to many of the viewers. We are used to being on the other side of that relation. But disasters of this magnitude happen very often, all over the world. Just think, New York is about as far away from San Francisco as Yugoslavia is from New York.
I share more with them because they are my countrymen, but imagine the dispassionate gaze from other countries, and think about that next time there is a giant earthquake in Turkey or mass famine in Africa or the next time NATO bombs some tiny, poor nation. Of course we are getting more attention, because we virtually control the media worldwide, but we are not more important than everyone else. We make ourselves the center of the world, but we are not. I hope that if anything good comes of this event, it will be that a great many Americans realize this. If we treat the other peoples of the world like they matter, then perhaps this kind of tragedy will not be repeated. But if we continue to throw our weight around the planet like we have been, I fear that this is only the beginning of the "Attack on America".
Someone on the television yesterday said "perhaps America's luck has finally run out." I sure hope not, but if it has, it's our own fault.