The Breakfast Table

The Horror Comes Home

Dear August,

In London, the front pages this morning are forgoing words and going with the moment of devastation blown up the size of the paper—“Apocalypse,” “Act of “War,” “Nightmare.” There’s no need for words, really; there’s nothing to say. We went to bed with only a sense that the casualties would be large, and this morning figures are starting to emerge. By the time you wake up, they should be in the thousands.

I’m sitting looking into my leafy garden; the eucalyptus tree is swaying in the breeze, but the air is full of cries. From the radio, a reporter is saying that Bin Laden “praised the courage of the terrorists.” Iraqi TV is reported speaking of the events as “the fruits of America’s crimes against humanity.” George Bush is promising a firestorm, that “America will make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbored them.” The difficulty for America will not be reprisal, but taking proportionate action. If Bush makes the wrong decision, the consequences could be as bad as the crime.

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I don’t know about you, but even though I’ve seen the events with my own eyes, I’m finding it hard to get my mind around the dimensions of the devastation. It’s as if the soundtrack to this horror movie was too loud to hear the human cries, nothing but the oohs and aahs of the crowd watching cataclysm from a distance. This morning, I lay in bed trying to remember walking amidst the towers–their behemoth proportions. I tried to reconstruct a sense of their size and weight in order to put this devastation into some comprehensible proportion. Does that make sense to you? I couldn’t find it for a long time. Finally, my mind seized on a remembered image of someone, hardly visible, trapped high in the building, looking out a broken window and straddling the sill, then dropping down, down, down the sheets of glass, his shadow caught by the camera like just another falling piece of debris. I kept thinking how many flights he was conscious in free-fall. Then the horror came home.

I keep longing for things to get back to normal–we’re a tough resilient people, and we will, of course–it’s just that our notion of normal will now have to be permanently revised, and trepidation will be part of it.

Speak soon.

John

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