Possibilities, Likelihoods, and The World We Live In
Every fall of the past ten years brings with it an anniversary. It’s one I don’t exactly celebrate. I’m always aware of it and it’s well worth my solemn attention, but it’s not particularly been a time for revelry. Ten years ago, this fall, I went on the first date with the woman who is now my wife. The anniversary of our first date was a placeholder until we married, when of course our wedding became the cause for celebration. But now, just weeks before the tenth anniversary of this date, and only weeks after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we are expecting our first child. There is good reason for me now to reflect on the fall of 2001.
Nine years ago, I could not use the name “9/11” to refer to the events of September 11, 2001. So, if you asked me what has changed for me in this decade, since that day I stood and watched the second tower fall from the Jersey side of the Hudson, I can say that I can now use the designated brand name. In print, at least, if not in conversation. To me, what happened in the fall of 2001 happened on a particular day, and that day was September 11, and “September Eleventh” are the words I will say. But time, if not healing wounds, can dull pain sufficiently to write in the common vernacular.
This year, the tenth anniversary of 9/11, allows me the opportunity of choice, a rather radical one. To focus on the terror and the tragedy and the evil of 9/11, or: to focus on a beginning, a life, a birth of something beautiful. Or, to focus on both, and somehow to find a way the resolve their simultaneous reality. Another vital question, as someone about to become a father, is what do I honestly believe is the nature of the future?
From the perspective of late fall, 2001, the future is sublime. But the future of September 10 of that year and the future of September 12 are different futures. And I am living in both. Is my time here on Earth, the only time I have, and the only time my wife and future daughter have, is this a time when the good can exist, thrive, and prevail?
Clearly, if I didn’t think so, I would intentionally be dooming an innocent life to disaster. And yes, risk exists. But risk, like victory and happiness, is based on possibilities and likelihoods. And will. Our future is certain to contain risk. Outcomes are uncertain, as they’ve always been. But human will is as present, as strong, and deserving of our rational, conscious, noble hope as it’s ever been.
In the face of possibility, human will is both necessary and sufficient. All that we are is what can save us, and is what is worth saving. The irony, for a being distinguished by his capacity for free will, is that we don’t really have a choice. The evil that our species is capable of is and will always be an aberration. As frustrating as it can be to watch a man ignore, tolerate, or evade, when push comes to shove, he will fight back. I cannot predict how much pushing and shoving will take place, and I do fear more is coming. But life is worth living now, is worth living after all wars are fought, and only life can prevail.
I stood outside the Weehawken ferry dock, watching the fantastical sight of one twin tower standing along side a column of smoke. When the paralysis faded, my eyes teary and unbelieving, I began to head home. As I walked north, I kept looking back toward the tip of Manhattan. Hellish quantities of smoke were already creating an artificial ceiling over the island. I kept looking back, not because I had expectations of any kind, but because it was the only way to retain the idea of what had just happened in my mind. And then, on one of those turns, the next tower made its own transmutation. From top to bottom, as had just happened to its former twin, the second half of a structure that was as much a part of reality to me as the sun or the sky, silently sublimated, a quantity of smoke equal to its volume traveling upward and joining the ugly deformity in the sky, as its physical being fell to the Earth.
I was alone as I watched this. I was sad, angry, and had an overwhelming feeling that I should be more of both. I struggled to imagine who was in or around the buildings. I had no idea at the time that my father had been in tower 2 when the plane hit, or that he had safely exited. I looked back and forth at that artificial ceiling, the worst shade of grey I would ever encounter, covering New York City, and I thought of the skyscrapers, the ones that had been there and the ones that remained. These were permanent, I thought, giants detached from me and somehow protecting me from above. But now it was as if I were one of them — not tall like them, but small and defenseless like them. We were under attack from above. And “this is war”, I thought at that moment. “This is fucking war.”
One might wonder how hope is possible for the person who lived through that day, even miles away from where true heroes also lived through it, or did not. Ten years later, I now know how hope is possible.
I made a choice that day. It was not a choice to change. It was a choice to focus, and that choice gave me strength that I carry to this day. It was the choice to stay ever-conscious of the right and the just, and to personally stand by them and to see them through. The good must prevail.