I know that I said that I was going to write about the Inside 9/11 documentary, but I still don't think I'm up to it, yet. Here's a short bit that will get it out of my system. [author's note: I guess I was up to it after all.]
The program that aired Monday and Tuesday nights on National Geographic detailed the background of the hijackers and motives for those who carried out 9/11, or as they called it, "The Planes Operation." The first night focused on the years and then days leading up to the attacks. The attack on the WTC in '93 was the work of man who eventually came up with the idea to use commercial airplanes as missiles. It described how he watched a plume of smoke rise from downtown Manhattan and thought to himself that it had been a failure because the buildings were still standing. They accounted for how he then dedicated himself to finding out how to take the buildings down and how he was arrested before he could ever do anything about it. His uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who we all know as the hairy, fat guy from that photo in a stretched out, white, undershirt, vowed that he would bring his nephews dream to reality.
The program also documented how Al-Queda came into being. How Osama began as a freedom fighter in Afghanistan fighting back the powerful Red Army of the Soviet Union. His work there gave him the support and reputation as a military leader for the Islamic extremist's cause. During the 90s Al-Queda began spreading out, planting and recruiting in all areas of the world including America. The most disturbing quote from Bin-Laden is his affirmation that he makes no distinction between those in military uniforms and civilian. He says in a post 9/11 interview, speaking near heavy U.S. fire in Afghanistan, "This place may be bombed, and we will be killed. We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us." Osama Bin-Laden is set on the establishment of the faith that he believes in to the point that he values no life, even his own. His allegiance is to Allah and to the nation of Islam. His value system is very much about the bigger picture, rather than earth and humanity, and his world is black and white. I can't help but see a lot of Judeo-Christian tradition and similarities in Bin-Laden's mindset. While Christians don't go around blowing themselves up, history has certainly proven that Christians can go completely askew from the true teachings of Christ and begin killing in his name. Also, those who find themselves reading the Bible with a stern, word-for-word, literal and unmoving interpretation of the Bible are going to find themselves reacting in ways that Jesus would have not only condemned, but considered counter to what his purpose on earth is.
Another chilling moment from Inside 9/11 was when a teacher in Brooklyn recounted the week before as one of her student's peered out the window across the river at the towers. "Those buildings won't be there next week." he said. "What do you mean?" "Seriously?" "My God, what's going to happen? You have to tell me." These are not things that teachers say when students say crazy things like, "Those buildings aren't going to be there next week." No, we say "Okay, open up your books." This also so creepy because you start wondering where are they? Are they still here? Why did that kid know what was going to happen and were there many more. You have to kind of assume that they did.
The second part of the program focused on the day of the eleventh. It is a day that I remember very well. I got a phone call from my girlfriend [Amanda, now wife] but I didn't answer because I was sleeping in. We were opening a show at the Dallas Theatre Center that night and it was my first day to sleep after having had to wake up early every day to finish rehearsals and then preview performances for Hedda Gabler. But the message alarm wouldn't stop ringing so I listened to it. Amanda was saying that missiles had hit the twin towers and that I needed to wake up and turn on the TV. I put my phone down and went back to bed. I began thinking about what I'd just heard. You know when Elmer Fudd is searching for Bugs in the rabbit hole, and then Bugs shows up behind him to hand him his gun, and Elmer just turns, thanks him and continues looking. But then finally it hits him what he just saw. This is what it felt like. So I hopped up as fast as I could hop and called Amanda. She corrected herself. It was planes, not missiles. I turned on our TV that didn't have cable or bunny ears and got one very fuzzy channel. It was CBS. As I watched the towers burn I wondered, how many people. How many is this going to take? Then as I watched the buildings plummet to the ground I realized that my feelings were being guarded, because I felt nothing. I didn't know what to think.
Inside 9/11 seemed to make up for my lack of emotion on that day. It was so surreal, and I had no clue what was going on. It seemed more like a movie than real life. But this week I finally grieved for the 9/11 victims properly, the way I should have on that day. I cried. I cried as I listened to first hand accounts of heroism high above the ground in skyscrapers. I cried as photos of devastation and horror filled people scrawled across the screen. I gasped and cried as the camera panned the smoky structure not long for this world and witnessed a person who had lost hope leap from the building and flail about as if a ragdoll or someone's airborne G.I. Joe toy. The merciful producer felt it prudent to stop the camera on a still image before having to be witness to the inevitable horror that occurred only seconds later.
Most of all I cried as I heard the wives of those men aboard United Airlines Flight 93 who attempted to overtake the hijacker and in doing so saved lives. I wondered what I would have done if I'd been on that flight. Would I have joined Todd Beamer and Jeremy Glick in their bravery or played it safe. How could I have so calmly told my wife and kids back home that I'm going to be okay, when she know as much as I do what lies ahead if I don't risk my life. I cried at the thought of Amanda having to endure such horror. In short, I grieved and as I grieved I celebrated those lives that were there and were able to rise to the challenge and overcome insurmountable fear. And to a lesser degree, but still a present one, I grieved for the men who thought that this was a necessary and honorable way to serve their God and their families. The hijacker who piloted flight 93 was different from all the rest. His story, as they all were, was reported and I was surprised to learn how educated they were. They were just as intelligent and knowledgeable as any young college student. The difference was their unwavering belief and devotion to this radical form of Islam. The man who flew flight 93, Ziad Jarrah, was different than the rest. He was married to a women who lived in Turkey. A Muslim also, she was not all that observant of her religion, and for that matter, neither was Jarrah, until he was in college and began associating with the other men who would become his fellow hijackers. I am enthralled by what would possess a man with so much promise and potential, a close family, loving wife and an "easy-going and friendly demeanor" as Inside 9/11 describes him, to commit suicide while taking possibly hundreds of others with him. In my world, in my understanding of life, humanity, and what the spirit of goodness does for people, with everything that I hold dear and true people who love people, and are loved in return do not wish to kill other people. It makes absolutely no sense to me, whatsoever. But then I remember the words of Osama Bin-Laden himself. "We love death."