Living with Hope, in a World Old or New

(USAF photo by Denise Gould)

(USAF photo by Denise Gould)

(First published September 14, 2001, in the Brattleboro Reformer)

Until Tuesday, I was still dreaming about Ireland. I had just returned from a quick four-day, four-rounds-of-golf trip to Dublin, and my nights were still playing out over the utmost green.

But I was sitting at my desk on Tuesday morning when my wife said she’d just heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I turned on the TV, and was pondering if it might just be some kind of horrendous accident. Then, as I watched, a second plane rammed into the other World Trade Center tower, releasing a tremendous ball of fire, and it was quickly clear that this was no accident.

Lynn and I could barely move away from the TV the rest of the morning. Like anyone else in America, we were pushed through levels of shock, outrage, distress and worry as the incidents mounted and the catastrophes deepened, particularly by the time the second tower collapsed. The sheer absence of what had been monumentally familiar for so long was difficult–is difficult–to get one’s mind around.

Our son is a New York City EMT, so we were quickly relieved to hear he’d been sent to his usual station in Brooklyn on Tuesday. (And then rattled again hearing he was sent downtown on Wednesday.) Other relatives were traveling, so the calls continued. I even had a wild notion that my brother the vintner might be setting up for a tasting at the Windows on the World restaurant at the World Trade Center, something he had done before (actually, I helped him pour samples there once at just such a tasting).

I couldn’t get through to him on the jammed telephone lines until the afternoon, but he was fine. The restaurant, along with God knows how much else, has evaporated.

I somehow found the most appalling part of the entire plot the thought that the conspirators hijacked commercial airlines filled with passengers. An innocent death is an innocent death, but the thought that the passengers must have known, for a long and agonizing period, of the peril they were in just seemed particularly merciless to me.

Perhaps I was unnerved, having recently stepped off an airplane, and supposedly about to be getting on one again–today, actually, heading off on a press trip to Hawaii, where I was going to play some Hawaiian courses for the first time.

That trip was cancelled on Wednesday. I wasn’t sorry, though as one friend said, “It may be the safest time in history to fly now.” But on Wednesday golf, like any other endeavor, seemed a touch removed, almost pointless. It wasn’t easy to work, either, or stay away from the TV to hear each new development.

One friend called up to say it was a beautiful day, and he thought maybe it would help playing golf. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it, because it might not feel right. Brattleboro Country Club assistant pro Greg MacKinnon did play Wednesday morning, and agreed in almost precisely the same words: “It felt a little funny. It didn’t seem quite right to be playing golf and having a good time. But I guess life goes on, and you say your prayers at night, and hope for the best.”

After initially postponing this week’s PGA tournaments, the tour subsequently canceled its entire weekend slate. The main event was the American Express Championship in St. Louis. A major American Express office is (or was) located at the base of the World Trade Center towers. Even the upcoming Ryder Cup is in doubt, since some members of both the American and European teams have suggested the match should be postponed.

It has been a bit odd, while flipping around the TV channels in search of more news or images, to loiter at the all-sports ESPN, and see how it, too, has begun reporting all its news in terms of Tuesday’s events, such as people related to the sports world who died in the hijacked planes, along with the extended list of canceled games, matches and tournaments. The sight of vacant baseball stadiums, normally a comforting vision, took on an eerie feeling of desertion, as though the fans were more than merely missing, but symbolic of those still lost in the rubble of collapsed and burning buildings.

My first night in Ireland came on the heels of an important football (soccer) match between Ireland and the Netherlands, a step on the road toward the next World Cup Tournament. The Dutch team was the heavy favorite, but the Irish team prevailed. My hotel was near the stadium, and the bar was later packed with both Dutch and Irish fans, drinking, singing, and peacefully coexisting long into the early morning.

I hobnobbed for a time with a couple from Belfast, who told me it was a lovely part of the country to visit, and I shouldn’t be daunted by all the political talk. The husband, Padraig, also pointed out the cheerful throngs from two different countries, while admitting the scene wouldn’t be the same if the competing team had been the English.

Two days later, in Belfast, girls trying to begin their year in a Catholic school were pelted with rocks and threatened with bombs, thrown by Protestants.

“It’s a new world,” was a phrase being thrown around now and again in the past few days. I’m not so sure. Yes, each individual consciousness is stamped anew, with the indelible images of Tuesday’s destruction, images that say to us that we live in a crazy world. But when have we not? We live in a world where religion can be skewed to create more torment than comfort. When have we not? We live in a world where hate exists to a murderous degree. When has it not?

But we also live in a world where good will unquestionably exists, a world of genuine cooperation, a world of community and neighborliness. This will become increasingly evident in the days ahead.

And we live in a world where life does go on, a world usually peaceful enough that games, matches and tournaments actually become important, for a time. We live in a world where it is, ultimately, possible to hope for the best, and that if our dreams are dark at the moment, that they will soon be green again.

The Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, is dedicated to the memory of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the 9/11 attack.

The Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, is dedicated to the memory of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the 9/11 attack.

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