Part II

Many of us were confused by the timing. We thought the big bang would come December 31, 1999, at midnight. We dreaded it, so much so that we invented a computer glitch to give us our appropriate fret-work. But we were off by more than a year-and-a-half because disasters, like history and love, are never kind enough to come exactly on schedule. Thus, the 21st Century arrived at 8:45 in the morning, 11 September 2001.

The pictures, repeated again and again, of the plane slamming into the towers reminded some people of disaster movies. For me they were more like the experiments in reality we did many years ago. We would cut a film at a certain place --- a shot of a woman walking across the room, sitting down, say --- and make a tape loop out of it, so that it repeated itself endlessly. We'd put it in the projector and watch it for awhile: she'd walk across the room and sit down, then she would walk across the room and sit down, then she would walk across the room and sit down. Although it was always the same sequence, after viewing it for the fiftieth or hundredth or two-hundredth time, it turned strange and unworldly: you'd swear that it was a different chair, a different walk, a different room --- a different woman, even.

Karlheintz Stockhausen was roundly condemned for saying that the bombing was "the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos." His words came out sounding more callous than they should have. Those who have followed Stockhausen and his peers know that for them the function of art has always been to skew reality. As such, his take on this act of terrorism is plausible, if crude. Our reality has been profoundly changed by it. We will never see clouds of debris, people in high windows, and men with beards and Middle Eastern accents the same again.

Jets will no longer be simply a rather crowded box to get us from here to there quickly. You and I will never enter the elevator of what we once called "skyscrapers" without a momentary pause, a twitch of fear.

This new fear of ours goes well beyond structures. Subways? We all remember the sarin attacks in Tokyo. Water? They are saying it's possible to drop something in the water, something invisible, undetectable, that will poison it and us. The air? How about anthrax or botulism. Food? One of the nineteen was studying crop-dusting, to seed our fields with new and awful chemicals.

Can there be any end to our fears now? For fifty years, the ecologists have taught us to fret about the contaminants of our milk, water, air. Now, the a band of wilful men (and our televisions) are teaching us to find dread in every corner.

Let us thus pause for a moment to grieve for the shedding of our innocence, that great American innocence --- now infected with this new and deadly particle of fear. We have now caught the virus, the one that has for so long permeated the lives of so many overseas --- in Northern Ireland, in Israel and Palestine, in Laos and Cambodia, in Iran and Iraq, in Timor and Indonesia, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Buddhists say that we must be mindful of every bite, every sip, every step, every thought. Thanks to nineteen men who had the arrogance to believe that their god was more important than human lives, we have now all become fully alert buddhists.

--- Carlos A. Amantea

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