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An End to Our Illusion

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There are moments in history when the fabric of everyday life unravels, and there is this unstable dynamism that allows for incredible social change in short periods of time. People and the world they're living in can be utterly transformed, either for the good or the bad, or some mixture of the two.--Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Tony Kushner

There are several images burned into my memory from that day.

My husband's heavy work boots.
My father-in-law in his underwear.
The steel blue of the sky.
The oddness of that plane flying into the building.
People jumping.
Towers falling.

It had started off as such a beautiful morning. Not quite the end of Summer. On the cusp of Fall.

Cusp: a point of transition, as from one historical period to the next. A turning point.

Cusp. Amazing how one word can say so much.

Our family was just the other side of a cusp, having moved to Southern Oregon just the previous month. It had been a complete leap of faith. After selling our home in Washington State three years prior, with the intent to move to Ashland, we'd ended up chickening out and floundering about. However, we eventually realized that even though it made very little sense financially, we really wanted to live in Ashland. Even if it meant living in a hovel. One of my favorite quotes, this one from John Burroughs, became our mantra, "Leap and the net will appear."

So here we were in Ashland, post leap, on a beautiful morning in September. My in-laws, who'd been very concerned (an understatement) regarding our decision to move were in town for a visit.

The first thing I remember about this morning was my husband, clad in his heavy work gear and boots, blasting into our bedroom. I immediately knew something bad had happened. There was his demeanor of course, but there was also our "no shoes in the house" policy that he was breaking.

"There's been an attack on the World Trade Centers. I just heard it on the radio when I left for work," he gasped.

I jumped out of bed. The door across the hall was open and I saw my father-in-law, a big man, sitting bleary eyed on the edge of the bed. He'd heard. I'll never forget the image of him sitting there. I don't ordinarily see him naked to his shorts, not even swimming trunks. But there he was, bare chested, in grey cotton boxers trying to rub the sleep away from his eyes. It's funny the things you remember.

The only tv in the house was in that room, and even though it hadn't been hooked up to cable, I got busy trying to get some sort of reception. We were desperate for news, to know what was happening, for understanding.

"Why would they want to do this to us?" my father in law asked.

The immediate response that came to my mind was: Why wouldn't they? Considering the way we meddle in everyone else's affairs (and this was pre-9/11 meddling), considering the way we consume 40% of the world's resources yet represent only 5% of the population, considering the way we create--because of our rampant consumption--about 1/4 of the world's greenhouse gasses yet refuse to sign the Kyoto protocol, considering there are 2.8 billion people who live on less than $2 a day and struggle desperately to meet their basic needs for water and food and medicine and...Why wouldn't someone want to do this to us? In fact, it's downright amazing that they haven't done it before.

These were the thoughts running through my mind and leaking by little bits out of my mouth.

We decided to move the television to the living room. We found a cable there that ran outside and up the wall to the roof, ending there and unconnected to any service but somehow enabling us to get a bit of scratchy reception . It was hard to determine at first if what we were seeing was live or was a replay. We soon realized though that the footage of flight 175 flying into the south tower was a replay. And that the horrifying footage of people jumping was live. As was the south tower falling. And then the north. As was the bright blue sky suddenly turning grey and black with thick smoke and ash.

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Debi Smith lives in Ashland, Oregon. She welcomes your thoughts, comments, and observations.
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