Seeds of Peace

Some blog posts mysteriously ended up in the sidebar as “pages” (v. “posts”) after the transfer to WordPress (in 2005??). This is one of them…

I found it difficult not to walk around with a lot of anger today. Brief visits to radio stations (CBC-Vancouver/Victoria and NPR/KPLU-Seattle) exposed me to the ceremonies taking place at “ground zero” and elsewhere. I heard children read the names of the loved ones they lost, but really choked when Donald Rumsfeld’s voice aspirated immediately afterwards, extolling the virtues of freedom, as though it were some stupid brand I can buy at the mall. I couldn’t forget the one person I know for sure I knew who died: he was on one of the planes the terrorists crashed into the Towers. His had been an early morning flight from Boston to California. Business travel, for Sun Microsystems. That was Phil. I thought of his widow, Lauren. I thought of their two sons, and wondered if they were at “ground zero” to read their dad’s name. I thought of the philantrophy Phil had supported, which seemed even more relevant after 9/11, 2001, Seeds of Peace, to which his friends have contributed in his honour. Among other things, Seeds of Peace brings Israeli and Palestinian kids together: maybe, if the kids can see the Mensch, the human being in front of them, they can shed the stereotypes, the prejudices that their parents and their parents’ society imbue their lives with. The children are the seeds of peace. I remembered a Boston Harbor dinner cruise organized by Sun a million years ago, meeting Phil and Lauren for the first time, and realized dully that I have absolutely no abilities as a seer. Phil, dead? No way, can’t see that happening. We were rich, relatively speaking, when it happened. I’m amazed when I think about what we could afford prior to 9/11 and the dot-com bust. We weren’t rich for long — just for two years, really — but it was a heady experience, and even though it changed nothing in our real estate category (Massachusetts is expensive turf, and we stayed put in Beverly), we took some serious European vacations to get the kids caught up with their relatives. On 9/11, 2001, we were in Baden-Baden, Germany, where my mother-in-law lives. It was the last leg of an interesting London-Vienna-Baden-Baden-London excursion. Baden-Baden is an old spa town, with a double-dose of 19th century architectural fakery (the kind that inspired modernist rebellion, along with the motto, “ornament is crime”), but it’s a wonderful place to relax and fall into fantasy-land. On 9/10 we left Vienna, by 9/11 we had gathered at my mother-in-law’s apartment (to use her washing machine), and just after lunch I left for a walk along the famous Lichtenthaler-Allee. When I came back just after 3 pm (just past 9 am Eastern Time), my husband was glued to the tv, nearly panicked about “an outbreak of war.” We watched the Twin Towers fall again and again, almost live, halfway around the world. It was in every way imagineable an impossible sight. This was television, right? Not anymore. The medium was betraying us. Since we were abroad, we wondered how we were going to get back: the US was freaking out and closing its borders; we half-expected US missiles to be launched at anyone anywhere. We worried about people we knew who might have been on those planes, on the ground, in the way. We learned the next day about Phil, via email on the public library’s computers. I worried about my niece Rika, with whom we’d had dinner in London a couple of weeks earlier, and who travelled constantly on business. But a call to one of my sisters confirmed that she was ok. Then we worried some more about how to get back, since Gatwick and every single nearby hotel was mobbed. With no alternatives in sight, we left for London, armed with a hotel reservation, but clueless as to whether we would be able to leave on 9/15 as planned. Gatwick was bedlam, but we, like freakish charmed aristocrats set apart from the many stranded travellers besieging the place like medieval beggars, did leave as planned: it was so surreal I half expected a red carpet to appear under my feet. Our only hiccup was that we had to fly into New Jersey instead of Boston. Since the airline arranged buses to take everyone to Boston when we finally cleared customs and security late in the day, we travelled on a highway that afforded a clear view of the still-smouldering ruins. Although localized, it really did look like wartime. But then we were whisked away and everything since then has been mediated because we don’t live there, where it happened. Thirty years ago today — 9/11, 1973 — was coincidentally also a Tuesday, just as 9/11, 2001 was. I was 16, in grade 12 at Oak Bay High, plotting escape. I didn’t worry about Chile at all. I thought about a couple of people I really liked — freaks who didn’t fit in — but my global perspective was relatively dim. Because of the transients and draft dodgers, I knew more about Vietnam and US policy in those parts than about supposed domino theories applying elsewhere. I hated fascists specifically and I idealized anarchists abstractly. The closest I came to terrorism at that time was through vague association. One of my high school friends, Brent Taylor, eventually formed a group called Direct Action together with 4 other kids, and ten years later they were bombing installations and buildings on Vancouver Island and in Toronto. They were arrested on a highway leading to Squamish, BC, and hence came to be known as the Squamish Five. But meanwhile in Santiago, Chile, on 9/11, 1973 the CIA helped Augusto Pinochet to bomb and terrorize civilians and their democratically elected government headed by Salvador Allende into capitulation to a right-wing terror that would last for a generation. Thousands died in the initial attack and the subsequent “disappearances.” (This SF Gate article has excellent links, and expands into general issues of terrorism and its mediation in visual culture.) Somewhere in Chile a different Phil disappeared. But if the Phil in Boston was real to me, then I’m obliged to make the connection to his South American counterpart. Otherwise, it’s all phantoms and shadow-play. Direct action, terrorism, overthrows: it comes down to loss, to one person going missing and making the act real for those who survive. Multiply it by 3, by three thousand, three hundred thousand, use whatever algorithm you want — you’re still left with a seed of peace that didn’t thrive. But it’s seeds of peace we need, and we need the conditions in which they can thrive: the presence of love and the absence of terror (including state-sponsored terror). We shouldn’t live our lives as shadows and phantoms.

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