Next Time The Fire

I usually do a nine eleven post. It has now become fashionable to apologize at the beginning of these. I have no intention of doing so. No, I have not gotten over it. No, I don’t think I ever will.


Nine eleven was not a sudden, cataclysmic devastation of the sort that comes out of nowhere, tears your life apart and leaves you to rebuild and get over it. Nine eleven was a sudden cataclysmic devastation that came out of somewhere and left us to deal with rebuilding and with moral and emotional questions on how to prevent its like again within the limits of the future.

The difference between the two should be obvious but it doesn’t appear to be. Take Hurricane Hugo for instance. It marched from the coast, up the beach roads to Charlotte NC where I lived at the time. It changed our landscape within a night. We were fortunate in that our little cul-de-sac neighborhood lost power only for the 11 hours. But people lost houses, people lost lives, and people lost livelihoods. One of our favorite antique markets was made into kindling, destroying the livelihood of the family who owned it. It was, at the time, a sudden, devastating tragedy. Afterwards, we got T-shirts that said “I survived Hurricane Hugo.” I don’t know what eventually happened to those, because, you see, we got over it within a year or so. What else was there to do? It was the weather. You can’t say “this will never happen again.” Or rather, you can, but who will listen? The weather will do what the weather will do.

Nine eleven is a different kind of tragedy. It was brought about by men – by the will of men, the brain of men, the malice of men. Nine eleven was preventable – if we’d known it was probable (our security can’t prevent “possible” – we’d have to have the whole country in uniform for that.) More importantly, further nine elevens should be preventable by men and women of good will and with a bright enough brain.


Have they been prevented? Oh, please. Of course, yes, we’ve prevented a few of them mostly through intelligence work, and a few more by our determination to be a mob, not a flock. This is good. But mostly, mostly, we’ve hamstrung ourselves with stupid kabuki travel theater, have turned on each other over what brought nine eleven on and have accused each other of unspeakable (and unimaginable) nonsense.

The one thing that Hugo and 9/11 had in common, the one thing that made me fall in love with America and continue to be madly in love with it (I wasn’t born here, but I got here as fast as I could) was the… empowerment of the individual. Barely had the wind stopped blowing, after Hugo, and our neighbors gathered, helping each other cut down trees that threatened to fall, helping each other patch roofs and, later on, when our electricity came back and other people’s hadn’t and didn’t for days, my husband and I spent the next several days making ice and taking it in coolers to our friends, and cooking massive hot dinners, where friends could come and have a meal. Our showers too were used around the clock. Everyone else had similar experiences.

If you’re shrugging and going “of course” pat yourself on the back. You’re an American. In most countries, you’d stand around waiting for the “qualified aid personnel” and then complain if the aid was late, instead of taking your hand to what was there and doing what you could.


Nine eleven – well, I know people who crossed the country to help search the ruins, and I think ALL of us wanted to. Instead, we did what we could, even if it was just becoming a check in point for friends in NYC or donating blood.

But the different nature of the disasters revealed itself almost immediately. No one in Charlotte stood around scratching their heads and saying “Why did Hugo attack us?” But almost immediately there were people beating their chests over 9/11 and going “it’s our fault. It’s all our fault.”

Again, this is a very American thing to think – almost endearing in its Americanism.

read the rest at According To Hoyt


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