Writing on 9/11

Writing on 9/11 is always strange; a shadow lurks around every mental corner, and words seem to lack the needed gravity. We live our normal days wrapped in the familiar and the comforting, forgetting that civilization is a thin veneer, that barbarism is not far back in our past or far away in our present. But on a day like this, we can’t help but confront our own and our world’s profound vulnerability. It’s a day to feel small, as history overwhelms us with its awful sweep — one unbearable morning frozen in a dense web of action and reaction dating back centuries and stretching forward until…well, others will get to tell that story.

What to do? Roll up in a ball and moan? Or get up and do something instead — let’s pick that. Let’s make 9/11 a day to Get Things Done, henceforth and for all our time. “The fate of this man or that man” may be “less than a drop, although it was a sparkling one, in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea,”* but even a tiny drop can make a splash.


*T.H. White, The Once and Future King.

Written by
Colin Delany
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  • Thanks, Colin. Funny, this year more than previous years I dreaded coming downtown. On 9-11 2001 I was working a few blocks from the White House. An employee called as I was en route to daycare with my baby in the car seat in the back. “Have you seen this crazy thing on the Today Show?” he asked. I dropped my son off, went into the office. The staff was riveted to the radio. A former assignment editor had to get to a TV — ran off to a local bar (at 10 am?). Then the phone rang. My husband said “a plane just hit the Pentagon, get Matthew out of daycare and come home right away.” All of us walked out of the office without even speaking, even as b’cast news guy came running up the street — “go home!” he yelled.

    Crazy. We all worked from home for weeks. And forever after as I drove down 19th street toward the office, I noticed that I could see planes — flying bombs — heading toward national airport.

    So — today I had the creeps. Ever since 9-11 whenever something strange happens I think “Is this it?” Truly — it seems not a question of whether, but when.

  • Still, you gotta keep perspective — civilization has ALWAYS been threatened by something catastrophic, from earthquakes to resource exhaustion to mongols massing on the border. As a pedestrian in DC, I’m more likely to be killed by a bus than by a truly disastrous event (and I don’t even want to THINK about the cumulative effects of all my own bad habits, which are legion).

    The two things that really scare me? Accidental massive nuclear war and an unexpected asteroid strike — those are the two things that could wipe out the edifice of civilization that we’ve built up as a species over millennia. But that’s an essay for another day.