Battle Hymn of the Republic: Friday, September 14, 2001 (Pt. 2)

Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2001 18:55:21 +1200
From: BG
Subject: Re: ARE you OK?
To: Mark and Mary

Hi Mark and Mary

I know you’ll all be far too busy coping to write now.

But when you finally can – please let me know that you are alright?

I’m so worried about you here.

New Zealand is so far away but we feel so close to you all right now.

The words are small when you see them on a computer screen but the feelings are so big.

Grief, shock, anger, disgust, disbelief, and the impotence of being so far away and not being able to give practical and immediate help to survivors.

I woke up to the news. I had just rolled over in bed and turned on the breakfast news to wake me out of my tired slumber. And the first image that I saw was the first trades tower on fire, the second being hit, the later them coming down. I didn’t want to believe it, blaming sleep and told myself that its OK. I’m half asleep and that it must be a new Hollywood blockbuster movie review. But it wasn’t. The news captions started running along the bottom of the screen….AMERICA UNDER ATTACK…..etc.

All I would do was look at the screen in stunned amazement for hours not even registering that my eyes had been crying.

I am very optimistic that you are ok but still it will be good to know. 3 newly made friends that I met on this trip to the States are ok and but some others may not be so lucky as they worked at the wrong place at the wrong time in New York. They are really lovely police officers who worked at the police museum which was about 600 metres from the Trades Centre complex.

The hardest thing has been waiting. Being responsible and not overloading the communication infrastructures.

I’ve cried abit lately. Not just because of what’s happened in the US but because of what we know is yet to come. Colin Powell’s calling all nations to war, a global war, a world war…..and they are listening…..with the ear of ‘do or be done’ as well as that of supporting Americans because we all feel a little American inside. Global media Americana means that Japanese kids emulate Californians and Kiwis feel at home as New Yorkers.

So this attack is in some way personal to all and it doesn’t know borders.

Take care. Thinking of you all so much.

lots of love
B


Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2001 18:10:07 +1000 (EST)
From: BF
Subject: A Mad World
To: Mary and Mark

Dear Mary and Mark

We’ve been getting your messages and thinking of you lots – apologies for the silence but in its been in its own way a strange time down here also, and we figured the main thing was simply that you were ok.

Reading your last two messages has in fact been really quite difficult, even confronting – the experience is, of course, so fundamentally different from that we’ve been having. That much is obvious. But for all the 24hour coverage and all the stories of connection (and everyone here seems to have them) there’s a fundamental separation. We’re deeply horrified. But why are we moreso than Rwanda, than Bosnia etc etc? It’s not just a shared cultural relation (at least in terms of a contemporary ‘global’ westernisation of culture). It’s not just our personal relationships to friends there. It’s not just the immediate spectacle of it. I think it’s something about where we spring from, going back centuries, and a double shock of horror done to those we identify with that confronts us with the shared horrors done in our name. Maybe that’s the symbolism of it – the shock of the symbolism, the effectiveness of the symbolism. But I’m so very conscious of the fact that we are able to think that way – we have the space, we have the distance. So I was particularly taken today Mary by your discussion of the Georgetown forums. Because that’s exactly what’s got to happen everywhere. But what I admit I didn’t think would happen there, so soon – that deep reflection within public institutions – within the darkest part of the sorrow. It helped to reaffirm something – I don’t know what – about the place you call home. Because your earlier email upset me and moved me for the experiences you two were going through as close friends of mine – that is, at a personal level. And I felt for you so much. But I couldn’t understand or touch it, even approach it, in any other way. I guess it was hard to comprehend the closeness of it for you. It felt so unreal, so closed off from me or here or anything (which makes me realise of course how truly closed off we are from that experience. Of course, in turn, I recall the 18 months of intense IRA bombing that we encountered in London then Manchester – how if B had caught her normal bus one morning she would have been caught right in the middle of an explosion – and how outside that we felt also, even when living through it.)

A friend in Toronto emailed me commenting on the manner in which everyone (outside of the US) seems to want to be part of it. Certainly Australia as a nation state does – as if we would gain something from our part in the suffering, that it would authenticate the indignation and horror we feel, and at a nationstate level would justify the xenophobia that has overtaken this nation in the past three or four years. And this to me is disgusting – our prime minister deeply disgusts me. He may feel some true horror and sadness – who could not – but he’s using it, oh how he’s using it for personal political ends (we’re facing an election). And his haste to claim a part of the suffering is the most inhumane, dishonourable thing of many such things he’s done. It absolutely dishonours those who truly suffered (and will suffer for a long long time).

Anyway, this was going to be a one-liner saying that we’ve been thinking of you. But you know I like to rave incoherantly at the best of times.

Take good care

With love
BF


Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2001 19:26:29 -0700 (PDT)
From: Mary
To: Friends and Family
Subject: Day 4

OK – so I lied. I’m still writing. I guess I had thought that I had come to some kind of peace of mind – or at least that nothing new could surprise me about this whole situation. As I said to my boss this morning, today is so strange – every day is strange, but strange in a different way.

Today started off differently for me than the past two mornings. Today I started the day crying instead of ending it crying (although I imagine that will happen too!) I couldn’t bring myself to open the newspaper for a good five or ten minutes. Then when I did, the thing that got me, were the advertisements – one from the Kuwaiti embassy, one from the nation of Israel, one from a major department store. Huge, full page ads with a few black words printed on them. A strange thing to affect me, but there you have it. Then of course there was the page of obituaries.

The television changed focus last night also. Talk is moving to the future – to retaliation, to war, to logistics, to strategy, to suspects captured and political ramifications. Less images, more talk.

I had an interesting conversation this morning with an Australian workmate. She finds the display of flags distasteful. Unfortunately, she didn’t even realise that the Star Spangled Banner is about the flag, so there you go. So much for being observant – she’s been here eight years! There are a lot of flags. A friend mentioned that he’d like to see the flags of other nations as well, in order to more fully represent the place of the US in the world and the role of immigrants in the US. Did you know that the 2000 census figures show that 10% of US residents are foreign born? That’s 25 million of us.

In fact, I work in an office of eight people. Two are natural born Americans. One Japanese, one German, one Australian, on Columbian and me who’s US/British/NZ. I think I skew the balance a bit! We’ve all been having some interesting conversations recently. My Columbian student worker talks of the terrorism he grew up with and how that’s somewhat desensitized him to this, although the scale of this is horrifying. My Japanese colleague isn’t worried about how much people are harkening back to Pearl Harbour, but is very cognizant of what happened after Pearl Harbour in terms of demonising the enemy in the faces on American citizens, even to the extent of internment camps. That won’t happen again, but already we have all heard stories of middle eastern people being attacked. One of my colleagues described how she’s uncomfortable meeting the eyes of a Muslim – simply because she doesn’t want them to think that she’s blaming them.

I am struggling with how to show my solidarity with Americans of middle eastern descent. Today I chose to attend the Muslim prayer service here on campus. I though that I’d be uncomfortable and stand our like a sore thumb, but there were many many non-Muslim who attended. The Imam gave a great sermon about Jonah. It was fascinating to hear a story that I was so familiar with only with a different name. He told the students to be proud of their faith and to stand tall in Islam and not be afraid to continue their lives at Georgetown and in the US. He talked of melting together with his Christian and Jewish brothers and becoming the “I and “we” and “us” instead of the “you” and “they.” A powerful lesson for us all.

I sat there thinking that I wished that President Bush would attend a Muslim service. Right at that moment he was sitting in the National Cathedral embracing the western religious tradition and I can’t help but feel that it’s those Americans of the Islamic tradition who need the most reassurance right now.

Bush declared today to be a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. I’m glad he added the last part for those of us not inclined to pray! Georgetown continued its course and today had a five minute silence accompanied by the tolling of the Healy tower bell. My workmates and I went over and faced the tower alongside hundreds of other Georgetown community members. Including a very good friend of mine whose father was at that time in the air – flying on a long haul flight from the west coast to the east coast. She was naturally very frightened.

There is an e-mail going around telling people to stop whatever they’re doing at 7 pm tonight and go outside and light a candle. I hope that the International Space Station sees that also. It shocked me when I learned that the astronauts could see the smoke from NY. Tonight Mark and I attended a candlelight vigil in Fairfax City. We wanted to be a part of our community. We got to sing the national anthem, God Bless America, which the congress spontaneously sang oin the steps of the capitol and listen to some lovely music. Hardest for me though was the Fairfax City Fire Brigade who attended. I’m glad they did – it really felt like a community.

We went with our Indian neighbours who then took us to their favourite Indian restaurant. At the restaurant, there is a huge screen showing videos from Indian musical cinema. What an eye-opener! We had huge fun. It was wonderful to be laughing so hard with good friends. And, as Mark pointed out, watching some very attractive women dancing.

Who knows what this weekend will bring for us. Four days ago we saw what we’d been expecting while we were growing up – a nuclear winter. Only we had never expected to see it come from a plane crash instead of a missile. It’s like a strange self-fulfilling prophecy. Ronald Briggs had it right in his sweetly wrenching book The Snowman.

During our Day of Dialogue, right at the end, a student stood up and talked of them and us and good and evil and how we need to destroy evil and that we’re justified in doing so. I was so afraid that these would be the last words that the rest of the students heard before we left. The professor, Father Walsh, who was leading the discussion, picked up the microphone and gently, calmly, suggested that his words – with a new changes of nouns – could have come out of the mouth of Osama Bin Laden. It was a sobering comment. I find it has taken up residence in my throat as a sort of filter through which my words flow.

Today is Friday. Everyone around us is yawning and wondering when on earth this week began. We’re all so bloody tired.

Talk to you on Monday.

mj

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