I was in New York City on the morning of September 11th on my way to a commercial audition. I hated auditions, especially for commercials. What was I hoping to sell that morning? Shampoo? Frozen pizza? Phone plans? It was all the same. I tried hard to convince myself that I cared, decked out in a tank top with a great big butterfly on it, bold, hopeful, transformed.
I decided to drive because I was too late to take the subway. Rushed, worried about parking, carefully sipping tea out of my to-go mug, when traffic came to a complete halt on the Grand Central Parkway. Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks sped past, blaring sirens. A seemingly infinite stream of emergency vehicles. I was like, what the? This was no ordinary accident.
I called my manager to say I would be late. His wife answered. She never answers his phone. Strange. She asked if I’d heard. Heard what? Oh. It took a second to register. I was like, what the? Hung up in tears. Frantically called a dear friend who worked in the towers. No answer. Oh God Oh God Oh God. Please.
Three hours later, traffic still stuck. I had to pee bad in a tunnel somewhere between Queens and Brooklyn with nothing to hide behind. I did my best to shield myself with my open car door as I squatted. Someone saw. Honked, disgusted. Whatever. Hours later, traffic slowly started to crawl again like a stunned millipede, winding its way into Brooklyn. My missing friend lived there. I parked outside of his apartment and waited with a few others from our circle. He finally came home, weary from walking all the way from downtown Manhattan, his shoes covered with the dust of fallen towers.
For several days after the tragedy of September 11th, a hush, a reverent silence permeated the city. People were kind, connected at last in their sorrow. We wanted to help each other. We gave gallons of blood, lit thousands of candles. We prayed together, regardless of religion. We cried together.
But it didn’t last.
Anger took over. Hate took over. My manager lost several friends who were real firefighters that he’d booked on a tv commercial. He was ready to kill somebody. I’d never seen him with such a look in his eyes. Flags sprouted everywhere like crocuses in spring: on trucks, in shop windows, in churches and front lawns, in tattoos, in clothing. Something felt gravely wrong to me, misplaced, in this sudden flood of nationalism. Something was missing the mark, forgotten, ignored. We were too ready to point the finger. That finger on the trigger.
But our aim was way off. I saw the wake of September 11th as an opportunity for the United States to come clean. We needed, as a nation, to own up to our own bloody history. To admit to ourselves and the world why we were a vibrational match for the attacks of September 11th. We needed to learn from it and what we needed to learn was not how to do more killing. We were long overdue in asking for forgiveness to the spirits, the families of those we have killed. We needed to start to forgive ourselves too. No healing could happen without that.
As any recovering addict will tell you, in order to heal, you have to make amends to those you’ve hurt. But boy, did we shirk that conversation big time. To mention the United States in a negative light after September 11th was tantamount to treason. It still is. We were not looking at the big picture. We hate looking at the big picture, at what it reveals, the good AND the ugly.
So, we never apologized to the Native Americans. We could have started there. We never apologized for the slave trade. We never apologized to Haiti. To Cuba. We never apologized to the Spirit of Allende. To Patrice Lumumba. We never apologized to South Africa. To Vietnam. For colonialism. For Guatemala. For Panama. To the Palestinians. The list goes on and on. We have killed so many. So much blood. So much death to people, to children, to this great Mother Earth, every bit as innocent as the Americans who died that day.
After September 11th, we were not aimed at healing, at getting our own house in order. We were aimed at revenge. Well, congratulations, America! We got our bad guys: Saddam and bin Laden. Whoopee.
I am not celebrating.
I am sorry.