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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
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Good/Bad

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It's gotten to the point where I don't watch the news anymore. I can't. I won't. It depresses me, frightens me, maddens me. The downside is that I rarely know what's going on in the world, but sometimes this seems like the better alternative.

September 11 was a terrifying day. It may not have seemed completely real to me from the safety of my college dorm room on the other side of the country--bodies falling, burning, this was the stuff of fiction, of movies. I still find myself trying to block out the overwhelming disturbia that sets in every time I'm reminded of the events of that day; that people purposely brought those towers down. Earlier this summer I attended a small short-film festival, and it took until about halfway through the longest of the films to realize that it--following the stories of a flight attendant on a plane, a businessman in an office, and a firefighter in the city--was about 9/11. The sickening disturbia set in like it always does, such that the film's final scenes--the flight attendant crying and whispering to air traffic control about their low altitude, the firefighter's concerned glance to the sky overhead, and the businessman's look of both shock and solemnity as he looked out the office window to see a plane headed straight for him--have not let me go.

I'm not actually recommending avoiding watching the news. It's a wimpy and irresponsible thing to do. We have to be in the world. Since I've been thinking about The Giver (Game-changing Books), remember that the Elders' stance was that it was better to shield people from the pains and sorrows of the world, even if it meant the people could experience and feel nothing...even the good, wonderful, and lovely. Or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie about a process that allows people to erase their memories, particularly of other people. I love watching our protagonist, who's had a bad breakup, fight to reverse the process once he's realized that if it means losing all memory of the person he once loved, it's not worth ridding himself of the heart-wrenchingly painful parts of their relationship.

The fact is, there is good all around us. It might be harder to see, it's certainly not publicized as often or to the same extent, but it is there. And even though each day something in the world can be counted on to bring me down, something else equally reliable is the rate at which something--some kindness, some action, some thing of beauty--inspires me. May those moments carry us through. And may we never forget.

 

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Today

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I remember.

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On Terrorism

When I originally wrote this for Schooled, I didn't like the way it turned out, so it didn't make it into the book. It's a hard topic to feel like you have any business writing about. Not that I've really had a chance to change it much since I wrote it, but I thought given the day that I would share it here. Well out of harm's way on the other side of the country when it happened, it's hardly significant, but for what it's worth, here's what it looked like to me:

It's the beginning of a new school year, my junior year in college, and my roommate Ashley comes barreling into our room one Tuesday morning. I'm still in bed, and she yells for me to wake up.

 

    "Tali! The Pentagon has been blown up and the United States has no defense right now!"

 

    And she runs back out of the room.

 

    I have no idea what she’s talking about, but it sounds serious, so I crawl out of bed and follow after her. She’s got the TV on, and it’s showing pictures of the Pentagon, although it looks intact other than a corner that’s billowing thick black smoke.

 

    The news coverage is scattered and chaotic, the way it always is when the world is in crisis; the kind of event that has newscasters scrambling to turn the air over to anyone who can shed any light whatsoever on what’s happening. Although for all the talking you hear when people are reporting on catastrophic events, it’s amazing how little people actually seem to know. They often look like idiots up there, volleying the screen time back and forth, getting info from people who weren’t even at the scene, turning the cameras to people to end up not even being at their posts. I suppose this morning will be no different.

 

    It takes a little while to make sense of everything being shown on TV, but we learn soon enough that the Pentagon is not even the half of it. The Pentagon is hardly any of it. Because it turns out a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. No, wait, a plane was crashed into the World Trade Center. At this point in my life, I’ve never been to New York City, and until today, I don’t know that I’ve ever even heard of the World Trade Center. That might make me unfortunate and horribly sheltered, but let’s table that for now. Because the images on TV are becoming increasingly more disturbing. The second plane’s impact as it goes into the south tower, the buildings on fire, the streets later filled with smoke and ash and debris.

 

    As the news channels piecemeal their stories, the details come together. A plane in the north tower, a second plane in the south tower. A separate crash into the Pentagon. A fourth attempt foiled by passengers and crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania. All this initiated by terrorists who hijacked these planes and orchestrated this horrific series of events. These are the facts, yet I find myself getting caught up in the details.

 

    Like the phone call a woman on one of the planes made to her husband. They’ve been talking about it all morning, because he’s some sort of big wig. A politician, maybe? She called to tell him what was happening, even though there was nothing that could be done, and there was no doubt some sort of goodbye exchanged between them. It is perhaps the saddest thing I’ve ever heard about. Not because a man lost his wife, because that happens every hour of every day, surely. But because this woman sat on a plane that was doomed. Her life taken from her in the most sinister and horrific of ways, and there must have been a moment when she realized she would never get off that plane. Maybe that’s the moment she called her husband.

 

    The plight of this woman—and all the other flight victims—is a detail I can’t get past this morning. I know a large part of this is the fact that flying already makes me uneasy. It always has. I can imagine almost nothing worse than the pandemonium that must immediately precede a plane crash. And in addition to that, this morning’s victims had to deal with the prolonged knowledge that their flights were doomed. And they were helpless.

 

    The footage from New York City is now showing people actually jumping from the towers to their deaths, victims who are trapped on the floors above the impact and have no way out. It strikes me as the worst possible option, the long freefall followed by skull-crushing cement. Wouldn’t they want to hang on in case a way out surfaced? Maybe the smoke would clear, maybe a path through the wreckage could be opened, maybe a helicopter could hover next to the building. Wouldn’t you wait it out for the maybe? It isn’t until years later—once I’ve had experience with a substantial burn that involves flame and flesh—that I understand why these people jumped. If the other option was burning to death, I’d jump too. Still, images of tiny figures falling alongside the tower will haunt me for a long time, I know this already.

 

    Our other roommate, Beth, is on the phone with her mother, who tells us that the terrorists’ next action will likely be to poison our water supply. She suggests we go get as much water as we can, and so we do. The three of us drive to the supermarket, and I’m picturing a scene from an Apocalypse movie as we pull in. Surely everyone has the same idea we do, and the place will be crawling with people grabbing whatever they can find amongst the almost-empty shelves. While some items are perhaps slightly more picked over than usual, in reality the store seems like it would on any other day, and we are the only people leaving with several gallons of distilled drinking water.

 

    Back at the apartment, there’s a girl in the dorm across from us who has been sitting outside her door on the cold cement walkway all morning. One hand is holding a phone and the other supports her head, which is hung low and facing the ground. Turns out her father works in one of the buildings, the Pentagon I think, and no one has been able to get a hold of him all morning. She stays there for hours, perhaps even all day, rarely taking the phone away from her ears. At one point the head resident of the dorm approaches to console her, but she will not be moved.

 

    It’s hard not to stare out the window at her and the anguish and uncertainty that she’s been forced to bathe in this morning, and I find myself wondering who she’s talking to. Is she simply dialing her father’s number over and over hoping he’ll pick up? Is she talking to various family members and clinging to their collective optimism and hope? Is it just a ruse so people will leave her alone?

 

    Whatever the answer, she is the most disturbing part of this whole day. Because here’s the thing about terrorism. While certainly scary for anyone, anywhere, it’s easy to think of it as something far away from you. Something that surely won’t directly confront you and yours as you go about your business and live your tiny little lives. I know today that my family is safe. That, in fact, everyone I know is well out of harm’s way. But seeing this girl weep for her father makes it impossible to not remember those who have been directly affected by today’s events. And maybe, in a way, we all have. Maybe if I look hard enough, I'll see myself crying with her. Maybe there’s a spot on that cement out there for me.

 

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