Remembrance, 9-11-11

    Remembrance, 9-11-11

Michael Gollin

You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart.
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes, you will
That you’re beautiful as you feel.

The lyrics to “Beautiful” by Carole King popped into my head, fully formed, as I woke up, on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. That was unusual for me. I do not usually remember lyrics without strenuous efforts at memorization. I found a recording of “Beautiful” and realized I had been visited by a vision (a song, actually) that was just right for my remembrance of that fateful day.

    You’ve got to get up every morning…

Labor Day fell on September 3 that year. School had started in August. We went to New York for Aunt Irma and Uncle Allen’s 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday. That Sunday morning was beautiful and we finally got to visit the World Trade Center observation deck on the South Tower. The city had been foggy during our previous attempt to go up and show the kids, so we bailed out that time. During our time living in New York, Jill and I had each separately been to Windows of the World, and she had been out on the observation deck, but I never had the chance in my six years living in NY or 10 years of visits thereafter, so we were all looking forward to it that day. We rode the express elevator 101 stories up and enjoyed the exhibits. Natasha, and Julia, and I then rode up the final floors to the top, strolled around the elevated walk among the antennas, and enjoyed the spectacular view. I have a happy photo of the two of them on the roof, with uptown and blue sky behind them. Max wouldn’t go up on the roof and stayed downstairs by the Sbarro’s because he said he was afraid a plane might crash into the building. From the windows, you could see planes flying around in the vicinity. He turned 7 on 9/4. Natasha was 9 and Julia was 4. I was a youthful 44.

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    With a smile on your face…

Back home the next week, we hustled out the door after breakfast on the Tuesday, with me and Natasha in the front and Max and Julia in the back of my Civic. Jill stayed home. It was another beautiful day. As we drove across Old Bowie’s 10th St., crossing the power lines toward the intersection with Rte 197, the NPR announcer said a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Hey, I said to the kids, we were just there! The news reports began at about 8:50, four minutes after the crash. Julia was due at the Bowie Montessori Children’s House pre-K at 9 am, less than 10 minutes from home. We drove down the wooded drive to the drop off circle and left her with the attendants and watched as she went up the hill to her class room with her green Montessori book bag and lunch box. I had no sense of any relevance of the seeming accidental crash at the time, and was still cheerful. You hear a lot of unfortunate news on NPR Morning Edition and you can’t let it ruin your day.

    And show the world all the love in your heart…

As I left the Montessori school and drove toward Glenarden Woods Elementary School, about 10-15 minutes further down 193 and Annapolis Road, we kept listening to the news. It sounded like it was actually a jet airliner that had crashed into the North tower. That sounded more like a hijacking. Somewhere along Martin Luther King Drive I heard that a second plane had hit the south tower after the first plane hit. Now I was getting worried. This was clearly an attack. I turned off on Glenarden Parkway and called Jill on my cell phone. It seemed to me that it was safe for the kids to be in school in Prince George’s County. There were no targets there that a terrorist would even think of. And a strong voice in me said “resist.” Don’t let them have their victory of terrorizing us into sacrificing the things we cherish. Education for the kids. And I was going to work, damn it. So I dropped off Natasha for 5th grade and Max for 2nd. It was a new school for him that year, after three years at the Montessori. The drop off was routine as I recall.

    And people gonna treat you better…

By 9:30 I was on Rte 50E heading into DC, listening intently to the news and trying to make sense of it. Traffic was slow. Reports came in about 9:40 that another jet had crashed into the Pentagon. Now it was not just New York that was being attacked but us in DC. I kept going. A little after 10, the reporter announced that the South Tower had collapsed. I felt suddenly nauseous. I knew that about 50,000 people worked in the twin towers. I couldn’t fathom how many people might have just died. And I sensed the significance of the loss of the iconic power of the towers, never loved as beautiful, but respected and relied on as part of New York’s core. At 10:30 when the North Tower collapsed, the gravity of the situation and my grief both deepened.

Then, way off to the southwest, over the Anacostia and Potomac valley I could see a smudge of smoke blowing eastward. I knew that was the Pentagon burning. What could I do? The kids were safe, Jill was home, and how would this impact me or stop me from doing my work. Traffic was heavy, but I kept going. I pulled into my parking lot across from 1201 New York Ave before 11, a 2 hour drive. The attendant said they were evacuating DC, a bomb exploded at the State Department, and I should leave. I went into the building and colleagues were leaving. Everyone was concerned and full of advice. I rode the elevator up to my 9th floor office and got some files. I was there for a few minutes, then accepted the evacuation and came back down, got my car, and started a long drive home. It was hard to call Jill, to check with the school, to let the teachers know I would come get the kids.

Traffic was heavier than ever but people were well-behaved. It was probably about 2 I got to Glenarden Woods. Jill got Julia. We got milk at the 7-11 and went home.

    You’re gonna find, yes you will, that you’re beautiful as you feel.

    We hunkered down in front of the TV and worried. Jill and I worried that Max would feel guilty like he had predicted it, or even somehow caused it. That never happened. We worried that people we knew were killed. I worried that I didn’t know who did it, or why. I worried that more attacks were coming. And for the first day, I worried about a death toll that would rival the Vietnam war. The number of lives lost would be “more than any of us can bear” said Mayor Giuliani. Amazingly, it dropped down below 10,000, below 5,000, below 3,000. Many evacuated the towers safely, but also the terrorists struck early, too early to catch many people who were still on the subways or on their way in to work for the usual New York starting time of 9:30.

    The next day I think the schools were open. I did make it to work, in an all-personnel meeting managing Partner Jim Shea called in the conference room, that turned into an impromptu mourning session, called that my partner Todd Reuben went down in the Pentagon, on his first business trip to Los Angeles for a client. His wife and children accepted the consolations of many of us a few days later.

    Soccer practice proceeded Thursday. I remember lots of parents there with folding chairs, and how clear blue the sky looked with no jet contrails. It was three days before jets took off again. Brother in law Robin had to rent a car in Atlanta to get back home to St. Louis. Others were stranded overseas. The rescue and firefighting continued.

    I started a quest to understand who were these attackers? Where did they come from? What motivated them? And importantly, how many of them were there? I knew instantly that the villainization of Islam was a terrible mistake. I began a renewed spiritual journey into the human heart and my own heart that continues to this day, at a remembrance service at my Goodloe Unitarian Universalist congregation. Even the overtly sentimental and patriotic recitations and sentiments expressed in the official media, including today’s Sunday comics, are acceptable and understandable. After 10 years, we can rip off the bandage, but the wound is still raw. 10 years of official political violence and corruption have masked the original valor and tenacity of the “first responders” and second and third and later responders, and the grief and shocking loss of so many lives. The thousands of short obituaries published in the NY Times made me cry each time I read them. Normal people, cut short and stolen from their loved ones. But the Bush crowd and their craven misappropriation of the events for their own political power have held my angry gaze for a decade. On the other hand, our worst fears of a dirty bomb or a bioweapon never came to pass. I would forgive much of the Bush-Rove agenda but for the attack on Iraq and the adoption of torture. The Homeland Security apparatus is far too much, but I understand it.

    I did not go help dig out people, or take in victims. I did not do everything I could. I empathized with my cousins and friends in NY for their displacement, and the loss of those they knew. I did follow a resolution that I made to commit my time, energy and money to defeat George Bush as soon as he invaded Iraq. I became more politically active and religiously involved. I started a nonprofit organization, Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors (www.piipa.org), to provide intellectual property law assistance to developing countries so they can benefit from innovation as a path out of nihilism and hopelessness. I tried to become a better husband and father. I like to think I’ve never let my family down and have been a good citizen of the US, protecting our freedoms, and of the world, seeking to find and channel positive creative energy as an antidote to evil.

    Carole King’s lyrics in “Beautiful” are a pure, simple, and joyful approach to life and I am convinced she is right. You’ve got to get up every morning, and what you do then is up to you. I do believe that over time, a smile on your face and love in your heart hold more sway than violence and hate. My goal is to follow King’s advice, put a smile on my face and show the world all the love in my heart. Then, if she is right, we will all find that we are as beautiful as we feel.

    ***

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