Sep 11, 2011

9/11 - Looking Back 10 Years

It took a while to sink in. Hijacked planes, terrorism on home soil, fear, anger. An hour, then a day, now even years later figuring out what it meant, what it still means.

This morning 10 years ago Sarah and I were in a coffee shop on Congress Avenue in Austin Texas, signing papers for the purchase of a 4-cottage property that was to become our co-housing community. As the agent droned about legal stuff, I glanced up occasionally to see images of a plane crash. As we signed more and more papers for a million dollar, multi-family property, I found myself looking up more and more, slowly but still slightly understanding what was going on.

In the elevator to my office, my cell phone rang (yes, I had one then) and my boss told me to get home. "But that was in New York," I protested, "And I'm already here anyways." Her reply chilled and awoke me, "We are under terrorist attack. You are one block from the capital building of George Bush's home state. Get home."

A few weeks later I was almost beat up by the owner of a nightclub where we held a fundraiser. We stepped outside of the noisy bar so I could politely discuss the inflammatory potential of the mat at the base of the men's urinal - a picture of Osama Bin Laden with encouragement to piss on him. "HE KILLED THOUSANDS OF MY BROTHER AMERICANS!" he angrily defended. I calmly pointed out that the picture looked like Muslims who are our neighbours and fellow Americans. When he denied any link or threat to Peaceful Americans, I pointed out the attacks on Mosques in Austin and across America. But his anger and hatred were all-consuming, and if I hadn't brought 300 people into his bar he'd have beat the tar out of me right there in the alley. The anger and fear and Us-vs.-Them division in his eyes was the first taste I had of the real effects of this attack.

Like most of America and people around the world, we spent the full day of September 11 in shock, watching the same CNN reports and videotapes over and over, not understanding. It was a waste of time, we knew that, but there was nothing else to do, no way to escape this new reality.

And now 10 years later it seems still impossible to escape the new reality. The War on Terror is the new Cold War, the new justification for militarism and invasion of privacy at a frighteningly new and ever-increasing level. Fear is palpable and local, war and violence are right here in middle-class North America, not just "over there" and the other side of the tracks. That bar owner probably still wants to punch me.

That land deal never did work out. Just as well - as Bush/Cheney used 9/11 as justification for Middle East and Homeland Security agendas they'd been waiting decades to carry out, our energy for constant and futile protests and letters gave way to a deep understanding that the US wasn't the right place for us anymore. A land of decreasing love, freedom, privacy, and respect for all people and religions and countries was not the place we'd choose to raise our children, when had a much-better-by-comparison (especially pre-Harper) Canada as an option.

We left the United States not from fear of terrorism, but from the response by the American government, military, and majority of citizens. The true and terrifying outcome of 9/11 did not happen at the World Trade Towers; it happened in the hearts and actions of leaders and followers too afraid to look for a loving response. Let's hope that in the next 10 years we all find the courage to regain hope and stop this self-inflicted terrorism.


  1. I have threatened to leave the US many times since 9/11. I wonder how hard it would be to transfer my teaching license?

  2. Thanks for having the courage to write this. I'm only reading it now... here in South Africa I felt bombarded by US-centred 9/11 stories and avoided anything with the date in the headline. Sadly missing the one thoughtful piece that came my way - glad to have picked it up, now.

    More broadly, thanks for your discipline in keeping writing thoughtfully. Blogs are funny things. You send off some words & ideas... they enter into conversations with unknown people's minds.