Brian Keaney

Tag: September 11 2001

What I saw in the afternoon

I sometime wonder what would have happened if someone else had been there at that moment.  In a city of celebrities – and countless more sycophants who tripped over each other just for the chance to fawn over them – I’m sure I was in a distinct minority of people who would have recognized a man who very recently was elevated to the height of his game.

I was taking the name of yet another volunteer on my clipboard and telling them it was likely to be a couple of hours before I called for them.  Like the hundreds before them they accepted the news happily and went off to find a corner in which they could sit and wait.  There wasn’t much they, or anyone else in the country, could do.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a crowd moving towards the door.  I threw out my free hand to block their progress, called out “whoah” as if addressing a horse, and only then did I look up to see what was going on.  There was a short old man in a black suit leading the pack.  His collar tipped off that he was a member of the clergy, and the horde of television cameras chasing him indicated immediately that he was a man of some importance.

Once I got a look at his face I immediately apologized to his eminence and made no hindrance to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the newest member of Holy Roman Church to receive a red hat and the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and allowed him and his media entourage to pass.

Cardinal McCarrick, like the hundreds of others whose name were on my list, was at the Washington Hospital Center to give blood that Tuesday afternoon.  Just a few miles away the Pentagon was still in flames, New Yorkers were covered in soot, and Americans everywhere where in disbelief.  Much of the nation, and indeed the world, was glued to their TVs, and I can’t blame them.  For a while after I returned back to my dorm from class, so was I.

It wasn’t long before I decided I couldn’t stay in my dorm any longer.  I had a friend write my social security number on the insides of my arms – because, really, who knew what was going to happen at that point – and started walking.  I couldn’t get a cab to stop for me, and though I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going I knew there was a hospital somewhere down the street.  A couple miles later I found it and told the woman at the front desk that I was there to help however they needed me.

I wasn’t sure what I could do, and neither were they at first.  While I was having my picture taken to get an ID badge someone had the idea to put me at the blood donor center.  It’s there that I spent the rest of the day.  At first the number of people coming in to donate was nothing more than what I see on a standard Saturday at my local Red Cross, but before long it was a deluge.

When the line got to be about four or five hours long (and likely longer, as I was really just guessing) I started taking telephone numbers and telling people to go home.  I’m sure they were never called, and I can’t imagine the hospital even had enough room to store all the blood they took while I was there.  I don’t know what happened to it all, but I hope not too much of it went to waste.

The media has been awash in remembrances and tributes this week, and rightly so.  For countless individuals it was the most traumatic day of their lives.  A childhood friend of my dad’s was in the Pentagon when the plane crashed, and listening to his story was something else.  It has touched the lives of all of us, no matter how far removed we may have been from New York, D.C., or Pennslyvania.

For me, however, I count myself as one of the lucky ones.  I didn’t spend the day watching the endless repeats on TV.  I was really too busy to even listen to the rumors of a car bomb at the State Department or anything else floating around the masses of people waiting to hear me call their names.

Of course I’ve seen the footage countless times since then, but ten years ago today I wasn’t focused on evil.  I was too busy trying to make sense of hundreds of people from all walks of life who were gladly waiting hours to give, to serve, to save a life.  I didn’t have time for those who wanted to take, to destroy, or to kill.  I saw those from Capital Hill stitting next to those from Shaw.  The uber-conservative Catholic from my own university chatting with the ultra-liberal lesbian from the campus down the street.  The rabbi leading the gentiles – and likely some atheists – in prayer.

On September 11, 2001, I saw the best of humanity.  Never Forget can and was used a trite slogan used to justify actions taken that I disagree with strongly.  But as someone who read the numbers on the bottom of the low flying fighter jets’ wings as they flew overhead in the days that followed, I don’t want to remember what happened in the morning.  I will never forget what I saw in the afternoon.

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Sir, I disagree

I saw some football players running in the rain tonight, no doubt training for the upcoming season.  I have high hopes that this is the year the program will turn around, what with a new coach and new athletic facilities, and it was good to see them out as a team getting in shape.  By the looks of several of them without shirts on, this was not their first run of the summer.  In an entirely non-homosexual (and, more importantly, non-pedophile) way, I was quite pleased to see them.

I’m also hoping that a combination of a better team, a better stadium, and Friday night games will put more rear ends in the seats, particularly those of students.  I’d love to see as many or more students at Stone Park as I saw at Needham High’s gym for basketball games last year.

During those games I, and many around me, did more than chuckle when one or two of them would yell “Sir, I disagree,” at a bad call.  They were using the most respectful possible language, but the sentiment underneath it was the undoubtedly the same as mine when what I yelled at a ref was enough to cause a Franciscan priest – who, it should be noted, daily prayed “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” – to resort to physical violence.  It was funny because we all knew that when those kids called the ref “sir,” they really meant, “you asshat.”

I don’t know why I was thinking of this, but I did when Brian Keaney the writer mentioned today that his barber calls him “sir.” In a blog post that mentions the riots that ripped apart large chunks of Britain in the past few days, he writes

Nobody in London can talk about anything else. Western power is draining down the economic plughole but that’s too large a concept for people to really come to terms with. But a bunch of thugs in hoodies kicking in shop fronts and helping themselves to phones and watches – that’s something that everyone has an opinion about.

To the older Brian Keaney I must say, “sir, I respectfully disagree.”  Obviously I am far too removed from the barbershops of London to know what the local scuttlebutt is, so it is with his assessment of the first world that I take issue.  Sure, the Mexican standoff the Congress engaged in with our economy resembles a bloody Tarantino film more than, say, the filibuster of Mr. Smith (not to mention left our representatives looking unworthy of the venerable institution in which they serve).

Sure, the markets collapsed when one of the same companies that did such a bang up job determining the relative safety of mortgage securities determined that the Isle of Man posed less of a threat than US T-bonds (though, in a delicious irony, may have made them even safer).  Sure, we are still rebuilding a country we broke when we went to war based on lies, a war that has left us broke and up to our eyeballs in debt.

Still, I don’t see anyone rushing for the exits.  How many of those shopkeepers who had their livelihoods destroyed by some skunk smoking hoodlums are going to moving to Syria, or Egypt, or Tunisia?  How many of those who are privileged enough (in the same way that 56 men were privileged enough to put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the line) to be making positive changes in the Arab Spring would give their left arm to get a visa to live in Greece or Portugal or another country dealing with a debt crisis of their own making?  Hell, even if Hollywood has given up, the nonsense they produce is still filling up theaters better than anything coming from Bollywood.

We know that history did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That said, western states admittedly do not today hold the same power – diplomatic, military, economic, social, or otherwise – they did in the post-war period, just as NBC News and the New York Times do not hold the same power or influence they did in the pre-Twitter era.  Times change, and the world along with it.

This thought was hammered home last night when I finally got across the street to see Midnight in Paris. What I wouldn’t give to spend a night drinking at a Parisian cafe with Hemingway (who, unlike The Most Interesting Man in the World, I would have to battle the irresistible urge to thank should he punch me in the face) while Cole Porter played in the corner. As Picasso’s mistress illustrated so beautifully, however, there is no such thing as a Golden Age.

[Rather than give this blog entry yet another sharp right turn into a new topic, I’ll simply add apropos of Midnight in Paris that I watched Out Cold on TV again tonight.   It had even more Casablanca homages – right down to the white dinner jacket – than I had remembered, but for the first time I noticed that it had several actors who had minor roles in The Office.  I really hope David Koechner isn’t such a creep in real life.  I think I might like him if he was normal. Also, it took seeing Owen Wilson in a Woody Allen film to see the similarities between them.]

No, the type, way, and amount of power the president or the prime minster wields today is not the same as it was when the elder Brian Keaney was my age.  It won’t be the same when I am his age.  I don’t expect to find an empty basin when I get there, however.

My life is very different today than it was when I spent nights sitting in the bird’s nest rooting for the Cards.  Even at the outset of the China Century I wouldn’t trade those days for all of their tea, however.  With that in mind, I do not hesitate for a moment to say that whatever my personal or nation’s problems may be, no matter how severe the  setbacks we face are, I have no doubt that our best days are ahead of us.

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Nine years and 15 minutes

Praise Allah.

The planned burning of Korans by a fringe preacher in Florida didn’t happen, but the lunatic who threatened to light the match got his 15 minutes of fame and then some.  When I first heard of how small his congregation is, under 50 members, I began to wonder why he was getting so much attention.

Why were national commentators writing and blabbering on about him on cable news networks?  This should have been a story that was covered by local press, and then maybe picked up by the wires.  It should have been one of those oddball stories you see in a little box to the side, not the main headline.

I think the reason it got so much attention isn’t because it was a notable event in and of itself, though when the president of the United States and General David Petraeus start talking about it, that is sure to get it some attention.  No, I think it fits into a larger narrative in the media and American society today about Islam, and that explains the way a small town preacher ended up with more reporters on his front lawn than parishioners in his pews.

Sizable segments of the American public, and Republicans in particular, believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim – with, wink wink, all that entails.  This is despite the controversy in the waning days of his election about offensive remarks his Christian pastor made from the pulpit.  Hands were wrung and teeth were gnashed over the fact that then-candidate Obama sat in this church for decades and had his children baptized –  Christened, even – by a reverend who made remarks many, myself included, found objectionable.  How soon we forget.

Part of this anger and vitriol we see being spewed towards the president, Muslims, and, before them, immigrants, I think  has to do with the xenophobic tendencies we see arise in this country (and probably elsewhere) during times of economic stress.  This being a particularly bad downturn, we see the anger magnified by that much more.

Someone has to be blamed for all the job losses and suffering we have endured over the past few years.  It certainly couldn’t be our fault for not keeping our skills current enough, or not saving enough money, or believing that dieing industries would provide stable jobs until our retirements when all signs indicated otherwise.  It couldn’t be that Wall Street bankers let us borrow too much money too easily and on usurious terms, and then gambled with the payments we made on those loans.  After all, they are mainly white men.  No, it must be the fault of other people we can’t see, who don’t look like us, don’t speak our language, don’t practice our religion, and don’t have any issues doing jobs that we are too good to do.

As we approached the anniversary of the most traumatic day in most of our lifetimes, Muslims became a focal point for all of the stress, all of the anger, all of the uncertainty in our lives.  How dare they build a cultural center on the same island as the World Trade Center?  Don’t they know this is sacred ground?  Don’t they know that this used to be a Burlington Coat Factory?

Pastor Terry Jones admitted that he’d never opened a Koran before.  He didn’t know what it said.  He couldn’t point to any particular chapter, verse, or even theme that he found objectionable.  He didn’t even care about all that love thy neighbor talk he could find in his own holy script.  No, he was mad as hell and he had to direct that anger somewhere lest it eat away at him.

I was in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001.  I saw the worst, and, it must be said, the best of humanity on that day.  In addition to the fighter jets buzzing over my head, I also experienced the rally around the flag sentiment that surrounded and pervaded the nation in the days and weeks that followed.

Yesterday, the ninth anniversary of that day, we saw much of the bumper sticker politics that convey trite and empty patriotism common in the days that followed the attacks.  Never Forget.  Home of the Free.  United We Stand.  Yes, united we stand, unless your president is black, you’ve lost your job, or a Mexican moved into the foreclosed home down the street.  Then it’s every man for himself.