Two Years Later

After two years, you can get used to pretty much anything.

Two years after Dad died, I was still just shy of 17 – but back to being a regular teenager: getting actively into trouble rather than the passive-aggressive style; chasing girls; concerned with what was cool. The usual.


Two years after losing my best friend to leukemia, I could finally smile at all the memories, instead of choking up. David Frederick was the big brother I never got as a kid, and so losing him was a hard blow. But I recovered. In each Citron martini I enjoy, there’s at least one sip just for Dave.

Two years now have passed since 3,000 strangers died, but I still can’t wrap my brain around it.

A bunch of pampered religious nuts permanently disfigured the skyline of our greatest city, and murdered thousands of innocents. Why? Why did they do it? Why, they did it to prove a political point. The political point being: “We can permanently disfigure the skyline of your greatest city and murder thousands of innocents.”

That is so far removed from anything I know, or anything I ever hope to know, that two years later, I’m still angry, I still get choked up, and I still can’t understand. I don’t want to understand.

In the suburban American experience, “religious nuts” means people coming to your door to give you copies of “The Watchtower.” Or in rare cases, people like Paul Hill, who assassinated an abortion doctor.

It’s easy to deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can politely ask them to leave. Or you can answer the door holding a 12-gauge. Or there’s my preferred method, which is to invite them in, sit them on the sofa, offer them a glass of lemonade, and return from the kitchen after having removed my pants. Do that, and they’ll avoid your house in the exact same way a good Catholic avoids meat on Friday – with saintly fervor.


And Paul Hill? I don’t mean to lessen his terrible crime, but he did seek his vengeance upon only one person, whom he considered guilty of murder. Frankly, I don’t care what Hill’s motivation was – he was a killer, and our justice system knows how to deal with killers. We try them, convict them, and jab them in the arm with poison. One killer, one victim, one tried and true way of dealing with him.

But 9/11.

Goddamn, but 9/11.

“The purpose of terrorism,” wrote the 20th Century’s first terrorist, “is terror.” By that measure, our enemies have failed. And failed badly.

Are you, two years later, still unable to comprehend? Be honest now. Unless you’ve dived head first into the bloodiest part of the heart of darkness, then, no, you don’t understand. You and I here in the West, or even that vast majority in the Muslim world, can never really know what makes an educated person do what those 19 men did two Septembers ago.

But are you terrorized?

Do you live in constant fear?

For me, the answer is: “Hell, no!”

Dread is for the weak; defiance is, perhaps, the American virtue.

I’m saddened for 10,000 children who lost a mommy or a daddy that day. I’m angered every time I see a picture of the altered New York skyline. I know a wearied irritation that this instinctively isolationist nation has been dragged into yet another world war. There is real, physical pain in my belly when that sound comes back, unbidden. You know the sound I mean – the thunk-splat of meat hitting pavement, of living people who chose to jump rather than be burned alive.


Americans are defiant, even regarding the manner of death chosen for us by others.

Now go on and let yourself relive that day, just a little.

Remember the first reports that “a small plane” had crashed into the World Trade Center. Firemen who didn’t just run into a burning building, they ran up into collapsing skyscrapers. Grounded planes. The stock exchanges, closed. The doubt, the fear, the “what will they do next?” And the realization: Oh my God, we’re at war. War in the Old Testament sense, when the barbarians came to rape and to slaughter.

Relive, too, the days after.

The wall of inkjet “have you seen. . .?” photos. You, me, your friends, crying over obituaries in The New York Times. Widows grieving at Ground Zero, who breathed – breathed in – their husbands’ ashes.

Remember, too, our just vengeance.

Our president told us, “I hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” And they do hear us, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They hear us, not because we used our weapons to murder their civilians, but to bring down their tyrants. From our loss, we gave them hope. The loss felt in Baghdad and Kabul is that of Sisyphus without his stone. The sound they hear is the ring of freedom. And they hear us, even if only a whisper, in Syria, in Iran, and – yes – they hear us in Saudi Arabia, too.


Maybe defiance will prove as irresistible an export as Levi’s, Coke, and MTV.

Two years later, I’m still angry – and I hope you are, too. But are we terrorized?

Hell, no.


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