So I’m three days late blogging the tenth anniversary of 9/11. So what. 9/11 is going to be around for a while, despite the best attempts of the news media to blather it to death. If the rest of us pool our insights into what 9/11 was about and what’s happened since, we’ll eventually get a handle on it.
Yes, I remember where I was and what I was doing: at home, which was then the little guest house at the Wooden Tent on State Road, editing a manuscript. The manuscript was hardcopy. My first inkling that Something Was Very Wrong came from CE-L, Copyediting-L, an e-list for editors that I’d been on for four years. (It’s still thriving, and I’m still on it.) At 9:18 Eastern Time someone posted “does anyone know what is going on?” That thread spun on for more than 24 hours, with list members from several countries as well as the U.S. contributing what they had heard, what they were thinking.
That night I sent an e-mail to friends. “You know me well enough,” I wrote, “to know that I don’t think much of George W. Bush, or of the Republicans, or of most of the Democrats. You know that I came of age in the anti-Vietnam War movement, that my fascination with the Arab world began before I was in double digits, that feminism is my second skin, and that I make my living in the word trade. You know that I left Washington, D.C., more than 16 years ago, and that I’d work for minimum wage before I’d work 9 to 5 in a 110-story building. I am trying to put all this together.”
My “Dear, dear friends” letter was published as an op-ed that Thursday in the Martha’s Vineyard Times. I’m still proud of it: I was as stunned as everybody else, but I was also pretty lucid.
Vivid memory from that afternoon: Clear blue sky over Crow Hollow Farm, with no planes in it.
Vivid memory from the days following: Flags, flags, flags everywhere. I don’t fly the flag, salute the flag, or pledge allegiance to the flag. When I have flag postage stamps, I stick them on upside down. In theory the U.S. flag may represent noble values and aspirations; in practice, more often than not in my lifetime, it’s represented intolerance, arrogance, aggression, and hypocrisy. My gut cringed at all those flags. Then my head caught up: The flying flags were saying We’re here, we’re united, we will survive. Not in my language, but I understood it.
The manuscript I was copyediting at the time was In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, by Mary Beth Norton (Knopf, 2002). It’s a well-researched and masterful reinterpretation of a well-trodden field in U.S. history. During the years she worked on the book, Norton could have had no inkling that 9/11 was coming, but the book and the day are forever entwined in my mind. Using period documents, Norton evokes the bitter war then being waged on the New England frontier between the indigenous Indians and the Anglo settlers. The Puritans saw the Indians as agents of Satan. Any Indian victory was seen as a victory for Satan and a sign of God’s displeasure. The frontier at that time was not far north of Essex County, in which Salem lies, and several of the key players in the witch trials, accusers and accused, had lived on the frontier. Add these details to the story and the story deepens as connections are made, motivations revealed.
That war on the New England frontier — King William’s War or the Second Indian War, as U.S. history calls it — was one of terrorism and counterterrorism. As the Puritans understood it, they were losing ground to Satan, and this could only be because they weren’t doing God’s will. As I see it, the Indians were fighting for their home, for their land, not because it was their exclusive possession but because it was their source of life; they were, in other words, fighting for their lives. In the Devil’s Snare reminded me, in case I needed reminding, that “terrorism” doesn’t come out of nowhere.
At the end of September, my mare and I took part in the Fall Fuzzy, part horse show, part gymkhana, and the most fun event on the M.V. Horse Council calendar. The costume class comes at the end of the day and is eagerly awaited by all, especially the young people who for weeks, often in teams, have been creating costumes and persuading their patient equines to put up with them. There are always prize categories, usually including Most Beautiful, Scariest, Best Vineyard Theme, and one or two others. In 2001, one of the categories was Most Patriotic. Uh-oh. I braced myself for an orgy of red, white and blue.
One of the girls from my barn had decked herself and her pony out in classic 1960s style: tie-dye, beads, peace signs, the works. She called herself the Peace Chick. The colors were bright, the costume quite lovely — she was a definite contender for Most Beautiful.
The judge gave her the blue for Most Patriotic.
Along the rail I heard the comments: Huh? I don’t get it. What’s that about? How is that patriotic?
I had tears streaming down my face as I applauded, for the courage of that girl and the wisdom of that judge. It was at that moment I knew that the best of this country was going to survive, somehow. I didn’t know how then, and I don’t know how now, but it was a good feeling to have back.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.