|No matter which way he was heading, or what he was actually doing, on The Day That Rod Was There, he was definitely doing something.|
Has it really been fifteen years?
Rod's recent post, Life Before 9/11, made me suddenly realize that it really has been fifteen years today since The Day That Rod Was There.
And as that realization dawned on me, I began to look up slightly, into the middle distance, stroked my chin thoughtfully, and, as harp music from somewhere began to ripple and the background became all flashback swirly, I suddenly found myself magically transported back into Kathleen's marvelous record of the many subtly different first person accounts of The Day That Rod Was There:
Hey everyone, let's not forget: the fifth anniversary of The Day That Rod Was There is coming up on 9/11. Of course, whether The Day That Rod Was There was also The Day That Rod Saw The Towers Fall Before His Own Eyes depends if you are reading Rod from March 2006 ("I stood on the far side of the bridge watching the tower collapse) and April 2006 ("having been a New Yorker on 9/11, and seen the south WTC tower collapse in front of my own eyes") or the Rod from 2002 ("Though I didn't see it with my own eyes, others did.") Good thing he had that handy reporter's notebook he kept writing in so he could record what he was seeing before his own eyes [cough] .... or maybe just hearing? .... But hey, details, details. What's important is that 9/11 is The Day That Rod Was There. Not that he would give you the chance to forget:
9/8/06, Beliefnet Crunchy Con blog: "I'm sitting here at my desk in downtown Dallas, almost five years and half a country away from 9/11, but I can still remember exactly how it sounded when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. I was standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, just about to run off and into Manhattan, and had just told a colleague that the towers wouldn't fall. Suddenly, the south tower fell. It fell with a faraway roar that sounded exactly like what it was: a Niagara of dust and glass."
8/06, Beliefnet: " All 9/11 did was show who they really were when put to the test. It happened to me, in my own small way. I was a columnist for the New York Post that morning, and hustled from my waterfront apartment across the Brooklyn Bridge, notebook in hand, to cover the catastrophe. I made it as far as the Manhattan side of the bridge before I ran into a Post colleague. “Don’t go down there,” she said. “Those things are going to fall.”“Oh come on, they’re not going to fall,” I said, genuinely disbelieving her. “That’s the World Trade Center.” Moments later, down came the south tower. I staggered backward, and held on to her to keep my knees from buckling. I scrawled these words on my reporter’s notebook, which I still have: “the building isn’t there it’s gone.”
5/1/06 Beliefnet: "I remember that morning, rushing from my apartment on the Brooklyn waterfront across the Brooklyn Bridge toward the fires in lower Manhattan. Every step of the way I was in denial about what was happening in front of me. Halfway across the bridge, a man with a portable radio shouted to the crowd, "They've hit the Pentagon!" And I thought, "You jerk, quit scaring us with false rumors." On the other side of the bridge, a colleague of mine from the New York Post told me not to go down there, that those buildings were going to fall. I told her don't be silly. Within a minute or so, down came the south tower.
4/17/06, Beliefnet: "I realize in bitter retrospect that, having been a New Yorker on 9/11, and seen the south WTC tower collapse in front of my own eyes, I wanted vengeance."
3/29/06 NRO Crunchy Con blog: I’ve told the story before, so I won’t go into it in detail again, but I will never forget as long as I live the experience of that morning. When I walked out my front door on the Brooklyn waterfront and saw the towers burning, I ran for the Brooklyn Bridge, to get over to the site to cover the story. Within the hour, I stood on the far side of the bridge watching the south tower collapse. Seconds before it came down, a NYPost colleague told me not to go down there, that those things were going to fall. I looked at her with total sincerity and conviction, and said, “Come on, that’s the World Trade Center, they’re not going to fall." Nothing that ever happened to me was as traumatic as what followed”
7/05 Dallas Morning News: Over and over that morning, even as I ran with my reporter's notebook across the Brooklyn Bridge toward the burning towers, I effectively denied what was happening, literally disbelieving my own eyes. When I made it to the Manhattan side of the bridge and was about to go down into the city, I ran into a journalist colleague. "Don't go down there," she said. "Those things are going to fall." "They're not going to fall," I told her with utter confidence. "C'mon, that's the World Trade Center." Seconds later, there was a terrible roar, and down came the South Tower,..."
9/04, National Review Online, the Corner: "POSTCARD FROM THE PAST [Rod Dreher] A friend forwarded to me today the e-mail I'd sent to some friends that morning three years ago. It's startling to me to read this now. Notice the date and time stamp. I'd just walked in out of the conflagration: Subject: Unbelievable Date: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 10:09 AM I'm not going to tie up the phone lines long, but I wanted to tell you that we're okay. My dad phoned this morning to say, "The World Trade Center is on fire. Go look out your front door." You can see them clearly across the harbor from our front door. "Oh my God! Julie come see!" I said. I ran down to grab my reporter's bag, knowing I'd have to go over to the fire. At that point, we didn't know what caused the fire. Then, while downstairs, I heard a tremendous explosion and screams. I ran out to the street. "A plane just hit the second tower!" a man screamed. I knew the subways would be out, so I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to the scene....I made it to the last pillar of the Brooklyn Bridge before going into downtown. I ran into a colleague of mine. She said, "We better not go over there. Those towers are going to blow up. One minute later, the south tower fell in on itself. I nearly fainted. It ... well, I can't describe it now. I'm too shaken. Everybody on the bridge screamed. Some collapsed in tears. A woman started to vomit. My knees went weak, and a huge plume of soot and smoke barrelled toward us. I decided to turn around and go home."
National Review 3/03: "And there was one of the towers, billowing smoke and paper, which was being carried by the wind right over our house in Brooklyn. While I was downstairs gathering my notepad so I could run across the bridge to cover the fire, I heard the explosion of the second plane hitting. It shook our building. I opened the door, saw the second tower burning, kissed Julie goodbye, and told her, "I'm going to get as close as I can. ...There was an exodus of workers crossing the bridge out of Manhattan. I stopped to talk to some of them. They were gasping and sobbing, talking about having seen people jumping to their deaths from the upper floors. I have never seen that kind of trauma in anyone. They were very nearly in shock. I am fortunate that I stopped to talk to them, because I had plenty of time to have made it to the south tower. As it was, I was standing on the bridge watching the fire, about to begin my descent into Manhattan, when the south tower collapsed. My knees nearly buckled. I was sure I had just seen tens of thousands of people die. I turned back toward home, because there was no getting into Manhattan now."
National Review 9/02: " Nor shall I forget the sound of my voice telling a New York Post colleague I was trying to coax to follow me off the Brooklyn Bridge and into lower Manhattan, "Oh, come on, they're not going to fall." I believed it. Thirty seconds later, the south tower fell. Though I didn't see it with my own eyes, others did..."
Crisis Magazine, 11/01: "I live on the Brooklyn waterfront, just across the harbor from lower Manhattan. On that horrible morning on September 11, my father phoned me from Louisiana to tell me to look out my front door, the World Trade Center was on fire. It was, and I ran down to the basement to grab my reporter’s pad. Then I heard the explosion from the second crash and scrambled upstairs and out my front door. A stunned and cursing plumber from the hospital next door screamed, "It was a passenger plane!" He must have that wrong, I thought. But he wasn’t wrong. None of us was conditioned to understand what was happening. Twenty minutes later, I was hustling across the Brooklyn Bridge toward the calamity—wending my way through the exodus out of the city—when a man with a radio screamed, "They’ve hit the Pentagon!" That can’t be true, I thought; it’s too cinematic. I am a professional movie critic, and I tend to think of movies as simile and metaphor. Don’t most of us? The movies are our common language, the only interpretative framework any of us have for a disaster this spectacular. And as we all know—or knew until recently—real life isn’t like the movies. Eight minutes later, I watched the first tower come tumbling down in a cataclysm of flame, concrete, and glass"
As the man himself says, read the whole thing.
Tragic as the events of 9/11 were, though, what can we learn from narratives like this going forward?
Why, that, like life itself, many narratives ultimately end up being fluid, protean, anecdotal butterflies tossed by the mind's tormented winds of desire for a really good, knock-'em-dead line or maybe a tasty snack. As Heraclitus of Ephesus himself pointed out some 2,500 years ago, "τὰ ὄντα ἰέναι τε πάντα καὶ μένειν οὐδέν" - "no man ever steps in the same Benedict Option twice, for it's not the same Benedict Option and he's not the same man".
So, as we solemnly commemorate the horrors and the losses of fifteen years ago, let us at the same time try to take away at least one optimistic sliver of hope that maybe, finally, we have learned a lesson about powerful narratives and those that tell them.