So here it is, 9/11 — the first time I’ve published a True newsletter on that date since the fateful events in 2001.
“The” 9/11 was a Tuesday, so Premium had already gone out. That gave me a few days to get it together before I ran a free edition, and a couple of more days before I actually had to write again, which I do on Sundays — that’s why every column has a Sunday date on it. Kit (my “significant other”) and I were Red Cross volunteers back then, and spent most of that week helping out at shelters taking care of hundreds of stranded travelers.
I was still publishing HeroicStories then, and got out a Special Issue before heading for the shelter. It’s still on the HS site (and HS is still being published, even though I later “spun it off” to a new publisher — I haven’t had anything to do with HeroicStories since 1 February 2003).
By the next Sunday, September 16, I was ready to write. Something set me off more in some ways than the terrorism: Americans who were trying to capitalize on the suffering of others. My lead story, Casting the First Stone, about the “American Taliban”, got me back in the mood. That story, my commentary, and quite a few reader letters, are archived on that page.
The evil we saw that day sparked some good introspection in me. On Monday, Sept. 17, I decided to ask Kit to marry me. And I didn’t mean “someday,” I meant “right now.” We decided to take a breath or two first (and get some things in order), so we waited four long days: we tied the knot on Friday, Sept. 21.
Then we started making plans to get on with one of my long-term dreams: to live more quietly, in a rural area. We chose the area, then chose our spot, and started designing the house for the spot. By August 2003, we arrived in Ouray County, Colorado, and lived in a yurt on our new property while our new house was built.
Rather than volunteer with the Red Cross, we now volunteer with the local EMS agency. I’m a former advanced life support medic and search-and-rescue sheriff’s deputy, but I had let all of my medical certifications lapse more than 20 years before. To get back into it, last year I started over from scratch, starting at a new level of cert (“First Responder”). Kit was intrigued by what I was doing, so she took the next class and joined the team. And this Fall we’ll both upgrade, to the “B” level of Emergency Medical Tech.
Meanwhile, we’re working on increasing our self-sufficiency. The point is, we all can choose whether to panic and freak out over terrorism, or we can use it as a wake-up call to reevaluate where we are and where we’re going.
Our governmental institutions are a mixed bunch on that question, both working toward better preparedness but also forcing little old ladies to remove their shoes for x-raying before getting on a plane. (My mother [no, my dear, I’m not implying you’re a little old lady] is visiting this week; airport security screeners not only took away her 5-oz bottle of water, but would not let her take a quick drink first, since she was thirsty and knew it was a long way to the gate. Yeah: like that increases anyone’s security? Sheesh. I’ve ranted enough about that already — and it’s gotten worse since then!)
But I’m not going to let that silliness affect what I do. I’m not going to stop publishing thought-provoking (and hopefully entertaining) content. I’m not going to curl up in fear. My reactions instead are positive: showing my commitment to my partner. Stretching to realize my dream home rather than just continue to say “someday”. Simplifying my life while still giving of the most precious thing I have to my neighbors when they’re in need: my time.
You may simply choose to “carry on,”to refuse to succumb to fear. And that’s a great thing. I just hope you’ve actually taken the time to think about your reaction, since terrorism won’t stop, especially when it’s effective at provoking governments to overreact. I found a way to keep — and even improve — the balance in my life, to actually get benefit from being shook up a bit. My view is toward the future, not fretting about the past. Here’s to hoping you also figured out how to turn evil into good.
The above brought two kinds of responses from readers. Marjolein in the Netherlands wrote:
Thank you for this nice piece as an anniversary story. My first reaction when I saw the [plane] hit was: Oh, that must have hurt — BAD. But the second was: I am not going to let them win. The moment they get me/us frightened, THEY WIN, whether they actually get to wound or kill us or not. That’s where the name’s derived from. They win the moment your life gets flooded with fear and panic. Every happy minute is a victory over them! So, my search for the good life (nice home, being happy, supporting my son with his difficulties) was strengthened by this. Sadly, the boyfriend I had on 11 Sept 2001 wanted to stay frightened. We split a year or so after that, because he thought I wasn’t doing the right things (being scared and very insecure about everything). Your piece is going to make me think my life over again. Thank you. There might be more I could improve on than I already have now. And I hope it encourages more people to, at least, not give in to the terror. Because in your country and mine, that’s still awfully needed.
But Mike in New York seemed to disagree. He wrote:
I had to read your comments on 9/11 a couple of times and then think a bit before responding. I live just across the East River from Ground Zero. As a software consultant in the financial industry, the World Trade Center was the hub of my world. You’re welcome to move into a more isolated, less tempting target; actually it’s your right to do so as well. Your call for this who don’t desire to move or just wish to carry on, to re-evaluate and think about their decision is admirable, but…there are those who will never be able to move or achieve the level of self- sufficiency you desire. In fact, unless you’re going to adopt the Amish model, you’ll probably be more dependent on the rest of us than you realize. I know this because I considered a rural existence in the days following 9/11 — I was unemployed and, yes, one of the first subscribers who you carried [with a sponsored renewal] (I later bought a number of subscriptions to pay it forward, and will do so again). I don’t agree with most of the methods our government/politicians have chosen to handle the situation. But I do believe that ‘carrying on’ is the best response — refusing to be cowed or changing my way of life. Failing to preserve my way of life is a victory for the enemy. I have introduced changes to my life to mitigate the risk, but I will always accept some level of risk; there will always be someone ready to throw a bomb, poison the water or perform some heinous act for their ideals. My relatives who died in the Auschwitz, Dachau and Birkenau, my ancestors who perished in the pogroms before that, understood this all too well.
I say Mike “seemed to” disagree since he apparently does at the start, but we’re in total accord by the time he finishes: preserve your way of life; refuse to be cowed; do intelligent things to mitigate risk — all a summary of what I said in my essay.
But there’s one spot of disagreement: “there are those who will never be able to move or achieve the level of self-sufficiency you desire. In fact, unless you’re going to adopt the Amish model, you’ll probably be more dependent on the rest of us than you realize.”
To ensure I’m clear, I don’t suggest (let alone desire) that anyone become totally “self-reliant,” especially to the point of withdrawing from the national or world economy; I consider that as foolish as cowering in fear. My moving to a rural area wasn’t a way to escape terrorists, but rather to realize my dream of, simply, living a more rural, more quiet life — just a personal choice.
“Increasing your self-reliance” is simply another way of mitigating risk. Like what? We all live in vulnerable places, whether from earthquake (as when I lived in California), bad storms or floods (think Katrina), even snow storms blocking the roads for days (as where I live now).
What’s the common factor? We have learned again and again we cannot expect government to race to our aid within a couple of hours after a disaster. That’s not some sort of government “failure,” it’s simple reality.
But do you have enough to live on for a minimum of three days, no matter where you live? A stocked refrigerator may not be it: what if power goes out? What if your water is shut off? Now can you survive without leaving your house for three days? If not, I think you need to “increase your self-reliance.”
What if, say, bird flu becomes pandemic in your area, and neighbors start dropping dead? There could be (well founded) panic. Supermarkets might be stripped of all supplies within hours. Their supply chains could be cut off for days, even weeks, as workers fall ill. Now can you survive?
I’m working toward being sure I can answer “Yes” — not just for 72 hours, but for weeks. I may not be as comfortable as I’d like, but my wife and I will have enough food and water to make it without help.
Does this require living in a rural area? Absolutely not. The point, of course, is to think it out before you need it, since these risks are real for all of us, and could be sprung on us at a moment’s notice. (How nice that hurricane-prone areas get so much notice! That’s not the case with a terrorist attack or an earthquake.)
I suggested that we can use the new age of terrorism “as a wake-up call to reevaluate where we are and where we’re going” — to “turn evil into good.” Not just as a defense against terrorism, but to just stop and think.
Living a rural life was a decades long dream for me. Rather than just say “someday” forever, I used that stop-and-think time to say “let’s take action” instead. And we did take action — made plans — and less than two years later we moved, even though it will be a financial stretch for the first few years. Your change may not be as dramatic. Indeed, you may decide no change is needed. But even making that decision is still far better than sitting in the dark in fear.
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