Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years after

It's been ten years since the world changed forever. Ten years later, many on the Internet and in the blogosphere are remembering where they were on that horrible day, and what has happened since then.

I don't want to. I've been re-experiencing an aspect of 9/11 for several days now.

One of the first things I did after the attacks was seize a broken chair in someone's office, a chair that was held together with speaker wire. I wanted that wire. I needed that wire. We had a TV monitor with a built-in DVD player that we used as a consumer-level tester. It could pick up regular broadcast signals (back in the olden days of analog TV broadcasts) - but only if it were fitted with an antenna. I needed to make an antenna. I could do that with speaker wire.

We spent the day glued to that TV, occasionally breaking away to distract ourselves with the mundane details of work, the bits and pieces of projects that we had been working on before the world ended. The TV stayed on for days; anyone who needed to could stop and watch and see the latest news.

For days afterward the only thing on television was news, or so it seemed. News about the attacks. News about an attack in Afghanistan - Kabul was in flames within twelve hours of the first plane strike; who had done that? News programs rediscovered the running ticker that had long been used to scroll stock prices across the bottom of the screen on some channels; now it served as a side-scroll for headline items as other news was being broadcast.

Things stayed that way for some timeless interval. A week, maybe two. Then other news reports started to pop up, generally framed with "here's other news that has been happening." Some was mundane, some germane. Some disturbing - some people had been very active in sneaking through their political agendas while the nation was focused on tragedy.

I didn't smile. For weeks. I didn't smile or laugh until I happened to be standing nearby while a friend was compressing the comedy "Dirty Work." The scene was stupid, inane slapstick, meaningless, mindless stuff. It hit me at the right moment and I lost it. I laughed.

News gradually began to introduce its own trivial, mindless stories. Not water-skiing squirrels, not yet, but more and more of the mundane.

I resented it. There was so much data to be extracted from these attacks; did they imagine they had touched upon it? The story wasn't over. The story was far from over. And here they were, going on as if the world was back to anywhere close to normal.

This week Northeastern Pennsylvania experienced a major natural disaster. Its effects were mitigated in some areas as a result of careful planning: a $250 million investment in a levee system protecting the Wilkes-Barre / Kingston /Forty Fort area prevented an estimated $2 billion in damage. (Could such an investment be made in the current economic and, more importantly, political climate? Not bloody likely.) But the effects were horrendous in other areas: West Pittston, Pittston, Jenkins Township, West Nanticoke, Shickshinny, and other places up and down the Susquehanna experienced flooding worse than that visited upon them by the once-in-a-lifetime storm Agnes, thirty-nine years ago.

The disaster is ongoing. The water is only just receding, and now the clean-up is beginning. Clean up, throw away, tear down. Members of our community have been transformed into homeless refugees.

Jim Cantore was here, Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel, and people noted that things must be very bad indeed. I joked that things were not truly bad until Anderson Cooper showed up, and once that happened, it would only be a matter of time before Brad Pitt followed. I think at this point, people would appreciate having Anderson Cooper and Brad Pitt here.

We are down to two local news channels. One of them is based in the mountains, well away from the river, and the other is in downtown Wilkes-Barre, in a building that took on many feet of water in the 1972 flood. Both began round-the-clock coverage as the weather disaster began to fall upon us, engendering some resentment among some football fans who found their programs of costumed millionaires giving each other concussions pre-empted by coverage of a disaster that wasn't affecting them. The Wilkes-Barre station had to be evacuated, and was able to broadcast from another studio from the local Fox affiliate that doesn't have a news program of its own.

The coverage went on for days. The rain fell on Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday. People in areas affected by Agnes in 1972 were evacuated. The flood gates went up, and the flooding began on Thursday. It continued on Friday. The river rose to unprecedented levels, to levels in excess of the specifications of the protective levee; only a bit of overengineering - a "bonus wall" of three additional feet on top of the levee - prevented an overtopping of the levees that would have caused a flood in the protected areas.

On Friday morning, as the refugees huddled in shelters far from their flooded homes, one of the stations made the decision to end its non-stop coverage and switch to "Live with Regis & Kelly."

Kelly Ripa is hard enough to take on a good day in the dentist's waiting room. While a disaster was creating a demand for news and information, her brainless babbling was less than appreciated. Maybe some people needed the distraction, I don't know.

The coverage area of these two stations is huge. Their broadcasts reach Northeastern Pennsylvania and parts of Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. Many people in their coverage areas were affected by this disaster. Many others were not. As with Hurricane Irene a week and a half before, some who were not affected directly were resentful and dismissive of the attention being paid to those who were. Some people wanted their football. Some undoubtedly wanted to see their regular TV shows.

The other station finally brought its nonstop coverage to an end on Saturday. First it broke for some children's programming, as mandated by law. But later in the day it came to a halt.

Throughout the disaster I occasionally switched to other channels. The Weather Channel did not disappoint: our crisis featured prominently almost every time. CNN and other national news channels gave coverage, mingled with their national and international news.

But as of yesterday that changed too. Instead of everybody talking about a disaster that was happening now, everyone was taking about something that had happened ten years ago.

There are houses still underwater along the Susquehanna. Homes have been destroyed. Lives have been upended. Days and weeks and months and years of recovery lie ahead of those who have been affected. And everyone on TV was talking about something from a decade ago.

It's wrong, I know that. I have touched on some of the accounts recounting the events of September 11, 2001, and I find myself transported back to those horrible days. The fear, the anxiety, the rage. The urge to kill and keep on killing until there was no one left to kill.

Maybe this current disaster is serving as a focal point to keep me temporally moored, keep me from slipping back in time a decade. I don't want to go back there. I don't want to re-experience it all.

But it's also critical to be here now. A new disaster has happened. And not just one disaster, not just here along the Susquehanna, but in Joplin, Missouri, devastated by tornadoes; New Jersey and Connecticut and Vermont, flooded and ripped apart by the flooding brought on by Hurricane Irene; Texas, parched by drought and scorched by fire. Disasters everywhere.

Yes, we must remember September 11. We must remember the world that ended on that day, and the lives that were destroyed, the heroism and the sacrifices on that day, and everything that has happened since.

But when the ceremonies are over and the memorials dedicated, we must roll up our sleeves and get back to work recovering from the disasters of today, and preparing for the disasters of tomorrow.

Click here to see all of my posts about 9/11.

1 comment:

hedera said...

Funny about the speaker wire. In my office it was a metal coat hanger - some of the guys used it to jury-rig an antenna for one of the VCR monitors they used to show us training tapes and Messages from HQ. They trundled it over to a corner cube where the antenna could catch some signal and played the news all day. After a few hours I went back to my cube; I couldn't watch it any more and I had work to do.