Sunday, September 11, 2011

The 9/11 tragedy and the other 9/11’s that sandwich it

Last year, when I and my classmate Debbie were photographing numerous dusty volumes of The Philippine Daily Inquirer for our thesis, we found it impossible to not stop for a while and scan pages of the broadsheets that detailed the most important events on our pre-made list. The September 11 attack on the World Trade Center was on it.

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I could still hear the metronome of fear I had while leafing through the pages. “There were people trying to escape before the towers fell! They are jumping out the windows to their deaths!” I exclaimed at Debbie, showing her the other WTC-related issue. “God. This is so scary.Why does this have to happen?”

Even if it was frozen on the pages, the surreal, smoky landscape of the rubble of what used to be the seat of the United States’ military power sent chills running down my spine. That was nine years ago after the fateful day, and I was already reflecting: how far has the world gone after that day?


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When this harrowing event happened, I was only two years shy of graduating in grade school—but I was well-acquainted with current events already, being a participant in Dep-Ed’s Mini Press Conference and Contests for public schools. Our ‘reviewers’ changed; we were made to clip news and columns about the terrorist’s attack, and the editorial cartoons I sketched almost always came out too morbid. The details crowded my head—conspiracies, the image of Muslims changing forever, the most powerful country deemed vulnerable by a single assault, the heartbreaking consequences it produced. I was ten then, but I felt a lot older, as if I’d opened my eyes too soon to an unpleasant surprise the world was preparing for me: the reality. Yet I didn’t regret it.

There were far too many things to discuss, but here's what I know: there are heroes that day. So in this post, I would like to pay tribute to people who belong to that category: the firefighters, the soldiers, the rescuers—everyone who took part in the rebuilding process after the fall, and everyone who braved the avalanche of inferno that was ironically falling from the sky. They deserved more than to be festooned with awards or to be given numerous salvos; I pray for the souls and the loved ones left by everyone who met their untimely demise that morning.

But I would also like to point out how this event does not necessarily mean it’s the worst that could ever happen to our world today. 9/11 has been dubbed the ‘day that changed the world,’ and somehow, somewhere deep inside the people who were not directly affected—those who could only show their compassion toward the victims of the event—this does not sound like ‘news’ at all.

In a poem by a Muslim named Nabeelah Ahmad entitled 9/11 Happens Everyday in My Lands, he said: “In Palestine, my people are bombed constantly, Homes bulldozed like grass being cut with a lawnmower. In Afghanistan and ‘Iraaq [sic], my people are cowardly bombed from the sky, Most of the time, killing women and children, And destroying homes and families. In Somalia, my people are raped and their neighborhoods bombed, Until my people wake up every morning, expecting the worst…”

His message is true not only for Muslim people. If you have seen my brief comments in my post In the Eyes of the Innocent (a war-related flicks faux review), you would understand what I was trying to say. The very idea of 9/11 has been the reality for more people even before 9/11 became the ‘day that changed the world.’ It was like the hundredth wake-up call for us, yet stubbornly, we scrunched our eyes shut. Up to this day. World War 1? World War II? Holocaust, atomic bombings, Cold War, the conflicts in the Middle East? Even now, locally, if you travel south to Mindanao, it is impossible to miss the fact that they're still exchanging bullets. We are too stubborn to learn.

I could babble some more, but I’d just leave with you with the very first poem that made me weep in elementary, a concrete example of world's reality that most of us "choose" not to learn from. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I read it after actually watching on TV how two giant towers slid down into a mountain of ash and fire to the ground, but maybe it’s more about the idea that innocent lives are wiped out unfairly (who says life’s fair?). It’s about a bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963:

The Ballad of Birmingham
by Dudley Randall 

"Mother dear, may I go downtown      
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?"

"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren't good for a little child."

"But, mother, I won't be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free."

"No baby, no, you may not go
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children's choir."

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.

The mother smiled to know that her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
"O, here's the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?"

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