Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

After 9/11

As an atheist, I can't in good conscience point to the Psalms or join in "prayer circle" email exchanges. What I can do is urge you to tell your family and friends how much they mean to you, and that it's they who make life worth living, accomplishments worth achieving, love worth sharing. I believe it will not be long before the monsters responsible for these atrocities will meet their just and ignominious destruction.

[P.S.: How I wish that had been true.]

In the meantime, we stand shoulder to shoulder with those who’ve suffered directly as a consequence of this morning's attacks. True, our eyes are wet with tears, and our fists are balled in righteous indignation--but our national resolve has only been strengthened. We can never bring back the victims, but our pride and determination were not among this morning's casualties. September 11 was not just a day of unspeakable villainy; it was also a day of heroes. So as we rage against a faceless enemy, let us also take a moment to praise a determined group of selfless Americans.

We now believe United Airlines flight 93, the jet that crashed at high speed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, killing all 45 passengers and crew, was the scene of a struggle between passengers and hijackers. We also believe the hijackers intended to use that airplane as a weapon against the White House itself. From cell phone conversations, it seems clear three passengers gave their lives willingly in a successful effort to save many other human lives. Apparently, one of those men was 38-year-old Thomas Burnett, a father of three. "No greater love hath any man than he give up his life that others may live."

In New York, perhaps 300 firefighters and 78 police officers ran upstairs, against a tide of escaping humans, and charged with no hesitation into two of the most dangerous buildings on Earth. Those men and women would not go home to their families last night; in fact, they never will again. It is impossible to say how many lives those people may have saved by giving their own.

We've all seen the video footage shot by Dr. Mark Heath, who was on his way into a tower to help with rescue efforts when it collapsed. Among his first words were "I hope I live," but only seconds later, he said, "I'm not hurt. I need to find someone who is." And with that he charged off into an ashen hell to find another life to yank away from the clutches of oblivion.

It is impossible to overstate the heroism of such men and women. My sincere hope is that it will be equally impossible to forget their sacrifice on our behalf.

-----

Business resumed at Warner, but not as usual. The studio scheduled a remembrance ceremony, so hundreds of employees marched onto "Midwest Street," a block of back lot designed to resemble a pleasant town square (most recognizably as "River City, Iowa" in The Music Man). A fifty-foot flag hung from a giant crane. The "town square" bell sounded twelve times, then executives including CEO Alan Horn made brief speeches. A soundtrack exec, who works by night as a kind of all-purpose singer, crooned "America the Beautiful." Then a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as several hundred people hummed along--it would be too much to ask film personnel to know the words. In a perverse but refreshing display of meta-awareness of entertainment industry b.s., many of us laughed as we trudged back to our offices: The occasion was too melodramatic even for Hollywood.

-----

There is evil in all of us, but in most of us, there is also the capacity for great angelic good. We have witnessed that heartbreaking heroism in staggering abundance these last two weeks, in firefighters and police officers who sprinted into harm's way to help their fellow citizens, in politicians who rose above their own problems and weaknesses to lead rescue efforts and inspire a wounded nation, in shopkeepers who pulled customers out of an avalanche of wreckage or provided them with free food and shelter. I was in Oklahoma ten days after the Murrah Building fell, and I have seen the face of cumulative grief. But in Oklahoma this last weekend, I saw an outpouring of sympathy and heartfelt prayers for the dead and the living alike in New York, D.C., and Pennsylvania. What we learn, in our darkest of hours, is that our world is the home of a single human family. We don't all get along. Some bear grudges that should've died centuries ago. Some bitter children have shown they're not ready to eat at the grown-up table, and some offensive elements declare themselves enemies of the family and must be cut off. But at last, after six millennia of recorded history, it becomes unarguably clear that what divides us is not a difference of political opinion but the decision to pursue good or evil. On Tuesday, 11 September 2001, the forces of evil staged a criminal assault against the forces of good. They held the day for over an hour, but in the light of a new morning, we learn the overall victory was ours. Our buildings may lie shattered, but our freedom, determination, and unity are stronger than ever.

"Out of chaos comes order. This is what I want to do: I want to reach into madness and pull out meaning. I want to give people some kind of hook to help 'em understand confusion, or love or craziness, human craziness, these uncontrollable forces of nature...That means so much. You have to understand."

-----

Chalk it up to the one-month anniversary of 9/11, but today has been a very strange day for us here in Warner Bros. International.

From 8:00 to 9:00, there's usually only one other person here besides me, and that's Juan. Juan's a nice guy, smart and levelheaded. When he came in this morning, one of the first things he did was go into the break room for a cup of java. He turned on the lights and marched directly into what he suddenly realized was a scattering of fine-grained white powder on the floor.

Now, understand, the FBI has received only one concrete threat in the last month, and that was a notification that a movie studio would be attacked if the U.S. bombed Taliban facilities or personnel. Of course, the U.S. has done so. Juan immediately remembered the anthrax spores in Florida were received as a fine-grained white powder. He backed out carefully, trying to stir the powder as little as possible, and called building security. They called the fire department, and five firefighters showed up in less than fifteen minutes, though without any haz-mat suits or even throwaway breath filters. The on-site verdict? Dehydrated non-dairy creamer--but they’re having the powder analyzed, just to be a hundred percent sure. We have yet to find anyone who will own up to spilling the powder.

One of my daily jobs--you're going to laugh--is to read Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. In one of them, I can't remember which, I came across a story about Warner Music, and how they evacuated their facilities for hours on 20 September due to a bomb scare. Later my colleague Aaron passed me a story from CNN.com. Apparently, the FBI believes there will be another attack on the United States within days. The studios are still believed to be a primary target.

Then, around 1:50, fire alarms went off on the twelfth floor. Three stories of the building were evacuated. I looked out the window and saw Warner employees milling about in the plaza below. I don't know what caused the alarm, but man, the tension around here is so thick you couldn't cut it with a band saw. And isn't it ironic--don't you think? I finally get a job at one of the major movie studios, but of course it's during the one month in the hundred-year history of filmed entertainment when it makes the least sense to accept such a job. O, thou noble cinema gods, why dost thou mock me?

I used to see my chosen profession--storytelling, by any means possible--as a relatively unimportant one. Entertainment is a luxury, or at least that's the conventional wisdom I absorbed and accepted. Writing and directing a movie, or acting in a drama on stage, were as nothing compared to inventing a cure for polio or saving the life of a toddler by transplanting a baboon heart. My MFA in theatre, I believed, was a sham of a degree, suitable only for spoiled middle-class wannabes who couldn't stand the thought of a "real" career. I held those self-loathing feelings in my heart for many years, confused because I wanted nothing more than to tell stories for a living, depressed because I had very little talent for anything else. There were long periods when only my family believed in my dreams. As late as this fall, I considered giving it all up and settling for a "real job" as soon as I could figure out how to make myself stop writing. I could learn to ignore the passion I felt for storytelling and acting...somehow.

But why should I? No, it's true, I'm not a New York City firefighter, rushing into Hell to find that baby asphyxiating in the superheated dark. I'm not a surgeon, plunging my hands into the chest cavity of a fifty-year-old woman to squeeze her heart into beating again. I'm not a teacher anymore, though I have a suspicion I may wind up in that job again at some point in the future. But I am a writer, and actor—a storyteller—and in that, I am blessed. Fate, genetics, the Universe, God--Blame or credit whomever you want, but the fact is I was born and raised into a talent I now cherish. It’s one of my greatest possessions, this talent, because it means I can reach across national borders and distance and time and talk to you, Gentle Reader, in a voice you will accept as your friend's. You give a damn what I think, and you may not even know me in person. You read my words as a letter from someone whose opinion you respect, and I appreciate that. But I can do more.

I can spin stories from the chaos of my own mind. I can do that. I can look at a blank page and see battles, kisses, murders, lovers, killers, cops, firefighters, babies, men and women, whole populations, and I can make you believe they exist. What's more, I can even make you care. What an incredible gift. I'm so lucky to have it, I know, and even luckier to have friends who believe in it. I will not let them down. I will take them to new worlds and different times and into boardrooms and war rooms and bedrooms and I will not stop; as you are my witness, I will bring you new heroes. This is what I do best, and it is just as important as finding cures for the diseases that wrack the human body, because my art is the cure for those diseases that can wreck the human psyche. I have a responsibility to keep doing my best. I, like you, can make a difference. I can be a part of one of humanity's most difficult, yet most significant battles: the fight against despair.

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