still there in the midst of darkness...

(originally published in ON THE VERGE v3.0 e-mail monthly - October 3, 2001)

"i pledge allegiance / to the flag / of the United States of America / and to the republic / for which it stands / one nation / under God..."

since WHEN?

oh. right. the 11th. my bad. please continue...

"i took the elevator down from Windows On The World yesterday at 4:30 PM, drunk from the 18 wines iíd tasted. made 2 phone calls from the lobby of Tower 1, then jumped on the 1/9 uptown. the world trade center is no longer standing."
-dom casual a.k.a. tonypuma, OTV extended fam.

i love New York. but i hate its attitude problem. always have. i have often said that New York City could use an attitude enema. planes hitting the World Trade Center was not what i had in mind.

i was born in America, but i donít consider myself an American. perhaps because people of color tend to be an afterthought in terms of what it means to be "American." maybe itís because dark-shaded souls enslaved and used as forced labor to build this country werenít even considered human when the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were drafted. and during these troubled times, i have no problems questioning our government, wanting to examine closely our foreign affairs and not buying into the cult of blind patriotism that has swept over this nation since the day after the attacks. all of this will get you ridiculed, shouted down, and/or possibly censored in the land of the free and the home of the brave, an act silently agreed upon by the United Flag Bearers of America.

then again, i guess we can thank them all for giving little kids a new game to play during those long road trips...

"thereís a flag. thereís a flag. thereís a flag. thereís a flag. thereís a flag..."

tuesday, september 11, 2001: the day that all of America put in a 911 call to GOD. i work in Connecticut and had just settled down at my desk about to fire up one of the ambient CDs i had brought in that week. man, did those come in handy. a curious buzz started around the office about a plane that had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. then word came in about the other. then the Pentagon. then the plane that crashed near Camp David. then the fears set in. "who had appointments at World Trade today?" we frantically search for our consultants and members in New York. thankfully, everyoneís present and accounted for. however, one of our former consultants ended up working for one of our clients. their offices were located in one of the World Trade towers. his memorial service was a few weeks ago.

(freakier still: iím working for a new consultant at my job. take a wild guess what he used to do before he got to Greenwich...DIRECTOR OF TERRORIST AFFAIRS FOR THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION. CNN and 60 Minutes have had his phone lines lit up for the past three weeks.)

my concerns were primarily with my wife. Beth works on 40 Wall Street. close enough to see the windows of her building buckle in and out from the air pressure caused by the plane crashes. close enough to make her way through the enveloping clouds of ash, soot and debris. she, along with others, crossed over the Brooklyn Bridge and watched it all ablaze. watched it all come down. her father used to work in tower two, but his day never started before 9:30 A.M. an hour earlier and he might not be here today. many lives were taken that day, but i know of many that were spared. and somebody today is saying "thank you, GOD" for the first time in their lives. AND IT MEANS SOMETHING.

it didnít really register with Beth for about the first day or so. then the reality of it all began to take hold. for a while, she couldnít get the sound of the towers falling out of her head. any loud crumbling noise would set it off. sheís back at the Wall Street offices now. she even went to see the ruins recently, which is something i thought sheíd never do. still, regardless of her faith, she feels vulnerable and her opinions on all that is happening around her changes from day to day. outside of prayer, the best thing i can do for her is just be an ear, to let her vent and be there for her when she needs a hug. she didnít know what was going on at the time. she didnít have Peter Jennings or Ted Koppel giving her the play-by-play; she just had to act. i was hundreds of miles away surrounded by radios tuned to news stations and the World Wide Web. she was there, i wasnít. therefore, my opinion means little. my love, however, means everything. all of this happened a week before our second wedding anniversary.

"the attack on the World Trade Center was a travesty no civilized human being should have to deal with. it was deplorable, an offense to human life. so what did we do? WE GOT FLAGS!!! millions and millions of flags! "

thatís when the patriotic music started up. for reasons unknown to me, i was watching Dateline when this segment about the American flag aired. when everything got all cheery, i thought it was a mistake. as if interns with a really sick sense of humor had taken over the station. later that night, the insanity spilled over into my own actions. at one point, i was marching around my house, singing "WAR, HUNH! (GOOD GOD, YíALL!) what is it good for? absolutely NUTTINí! SAY IT AGAIN!"

i stopped short after the chorus. "what the hell am i doing?"

saturday, september 15, 2001. from uptown, i take the 2, transfer to the 5, and headed straight down to the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall stop. when i reach street level, the mood is solemn. not much noise except occasional cheers for rescue workers, police, and firemen. three out of every four people had some sort of camera and there wasnít a cloud in the sky. except for one. thatís when it hit me. the smoke hadnít left yet. got really freaked out by that and started walking uptown. side streets blocked off, cops everywhere. by the time i got up to Canal Street, thatís when the usual hustle and bustle of the city revealed itself. same for Broadway: a steady stream of folks scurrying in and out of clothing stores. and not just because they felt it was their duty to help out the economy either. meanwhile, i was in a fog, standing between a lamppost with pictures of missing people and a vendor not only selling American flags, but framed pictures of an intact New York City skyline. near the Astor Place subway stop, the buildings began to talk with anonymous scribbles. one simply stated "You are alive," while another read "now that we have been attacked as a nation, can we finally act like brothers and sisters?" while staring at the writing on the wall, a person walked by improvising a song of retaliation at the top of his lungs.

final stop: 14th Street-Union Square. the vigil in the park had taken on a life on its own. i was in awe. this was the pinnacle of what was already a very emotional day. the steps were covered with pictures, candles, and sentiments of love, loss, and remembrance. words of peace were written everywhere. a group of patriots sang anthems and even threw in "New York, New York" (how did i not see that coming?). people milled about, cried heavy and hard and hugged each other. i observed a Tibetan group in meditation and later joined a number of Christians in a prayer circle. another believer (named Peter) and i had a rather sobering encounter with an atheist soon afterwards. while trying to convey to him that GOD was still in control, still in the midst, he wasnít buying it Ė retribution and revenge were on his tongue. for an atheist, the actions of september 11th confirmed everything that they believe. satan didnít get to be the father of lies for nothing. as our brother stormed off, Peter began to cry. i gave him a hug. we introduced ourselves formally and talked a bit. then i made my way home.

music has taken on a whole other realm since the 11th. ambient was mandatory after the attacks. the next week, it was free jazz, a musical fire in the belly that seemed to speak directly to the confusion and chaos in our nation thatís been taking place ever since. at home, further strength is given with Gil Scott-Heronís "Work For Peace" and Femi Kutiís "Truth Don Die" and "What Will Tomorrow Bring." i even spun out recently, an act which is always cathartic when i havenít done it in a while, but even more so now.

at this moment, there is concern, sometimes even anxiety, but i cannot give into fear. the moment i do, the terrorists have won. and i can honestly say that there is no hatred in my heart. iíd rather spend energy hoping and praying for souls and spirits to be transformed. war looks likely to occur, but there are some things that bombs and bullets canít do. iíd rather pray that a change will occur in the heart of young Afghani or Palestine youths that celebrated the deaths of innocent Americans, that a change will occur in the minds of Americans that are clogged up with anti-Arab sentiment.

many people talk about a return to normalcy, to rewind the clock back to the 10th. what does that mean, really? since the 11th, we have seen an amazing outpouring of unconditional love and compassion, the type which wasnít visible on the 10th. the question iíve been wrestling with is this: how do we get "back to normal" without losing those lessons of love weíve learned in the past few weeks? "back to normal" didnít include that.

those under the blanket of blind patriotism wonít ask why we as Americans are only concerned with Americans. they wonít ask why we donít care to learn more about other countries. they wonít ask why we assume that the American way is the only way. AND THEYíRE NOT ABOUT TO START NOW. change begins with a reevaluation of self, a step that few stateside are willing to take at this time. so in a way, America is back to normal. didnít take us very long, did it?

two weeks ago, i was heading down to Avenue A when i noticed an Afghani restaurant on Saint Marks Place. iíve walked down that street i donít know how many times and this was the first time iíve noticed it. i couldnít help but feel slightly guilty about that. iíve got vacation coming up and iíve been seriously considering going in, sitting down, ordering some lunch, and chilling out with the regulars. why not? somebodyís gotta...

{jason randall smith}

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