9/11 from a pond in Wellfleet

As if to make up for the Y2K flop, 9/11 got this spanking new millennium off to a rousing start, headed on a trajectory which so far it has yet to correct: to hell in a handbasket. (Stephen Pinker’s rose-colored glasses notwithstanding)

I can’t remember the last minute, hour, day of my pre-9/11 innocence. (You never do know when something is the last ever so as to savor it as such.) I do remember my futile attempts to hang onto that innocence.

Alerted by a phone call to what was happening in New York City, I joined the rest of the country submitting to those images of those planes flying with such sickening purpose into the buildings. That interval, now rich with irony. Then all that immense architecture tumbling irresistibly down. Over and over.

Wrenching myself away from the TV I walked to a nearby pond to try to purge my mind of those images.

It was a fine morning and not surprising post-Labor Day to have the pond to myself, a quiet, self-absorbed little world, innocent of the events of the day. The Outer Cape has always been about disconnection. A move here, a geographical removal, is also an emotional withdrawal, in part from those crowded centers of population, those very symbols of affluence under attack. But I couldn’t help obsessing, even while bathing in the pond’s innocence, about what it would have been like being on those planes, heading for those buildings.

The experience was one of a strange, unsettling doubleness: Am I here in remote, rural Wellfleet? Or there, with those nightmarishly collapsing towers? Be here now, says the pond. Be there, says the mind.“We are all New Yorkers” we said on that day.

That day the Cape, the Outer Cape certainly, received a big hit to what had always been a big part of its essence: being away from it all. A place where you can stand and put all America behind you, said Thoreau, quoted by so many who feel the same way about it. But not so easy on that day. (I suppose it was like that on 12/7/41, but with less immediacy. )

In a column I confessed that though “We are all New Yorkers” I was tremendously grateful to be at that much remove from Ground Zero. “It’s an ever smaller world, I know, but I count on the likelihood that a hijacked jet (or the suitcase nuclear bomb that we now have reason to believe could fairly easily be built and delivered ) will not be wasted on Wellfleet’s town hall.”

But I don’t think the Cape, has ever gone back to feeling as securely remote and away from it all as before 9/11. (The attacks were only one factor, of course, in making the Cape feel more on the grid.)

20 years out, 9/11 should be just what this dangerously divided country needs: a big, sobering, unifying tragedy. We all felt attacked, didn’t we, both blue and red? “We are New York City”, we said. But it doesn’t take much delving beneath the flood of media attention on the anniversary to see the flaws in that wishful thinking.

Some on the radical right are thinking the Taliban, who harbored the perps of 9/11, might not be so bad. After all, as Tucker Carlson and others of the Trump persuasion say, they aren’t ashamed of their masculinity. They are not pussy-whipped by a MeToo movement. And you’ve got to admire how they’ve stood up to American liberals and their silly attempt to import democracy. Maybe we could do with a dose of Taliban in this country?

And of course 20 years ago, while everyone grieved the loss of human life, there were those of the leftish persuasion who pointed out that the mighty towers of the WTC, symbol of globalization, flaunting the US economic might, were a big Kick Me sign. All due respect, but wasn’t Al Quaeda, in a way, in doing the honors, striking a blow for the downtrodden of the world?

As far as the unifying effect of 9/11 , we apparently don’t even agree on what actually happened. As with the JFK assassination, polls over the years have shown significant skepticism about the official version of the story, and the meaning of that story. with considerable respect shown the version of the attack that has it not an attack at all but an inside job.

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