If This Isn’t an Emergency, Please Hang up and Dial 9/11

I was there. I should know better than to go about my days like this. This day of all days.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

Chin forward, shoulders hunched, blowing by the given while chasing down the made. Snowed under at summer’s end by all that remains unattained and not yet accomplished.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

I wasn’t there there, not at Ground Zero. But close enough, in the West Village. To see the gouged towers burn and spew before they fell. To wonder how those trapped would ever get down or out.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

A Tuesday like today, this being only the second such anniversary on the exact weekday. And what a beautiful Tuesday it was at first, the New York skyline rinsed clean against the bluest blue that morning after a downpour on the night of the tenth.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

Looking back now, I can only imagine the vows I made once the dust had settled. Vows toward more of this and less of that, in the interest of fragility and making every day—nay, every moment—count. I can only imagine them because I can’t remember them.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

Was it to imitate the lilies that neither toil nor spin? To let the day’s troubles suffice and leave tomorrow to tomorrow? To sacrifice certainty at the altar of grace?

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

Eleven years later, “the day that changed everything” seems just as much to have changed nothing. How cynical. How false. How sincere. How true.

The new normal tends to look a lot like the old one. We did what we were told per Mayor Giuliani in the aftermath: Go shopping. See a movie. Show the terrorists that when the going gets tough in America, the tough get going to the mall and the cineplex.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

Remember the era that ended just before the onset of this one? The world’s first concern was Y2K, and Monica Lewinsky was more hunted than Osama bin Laden?

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

During the storm on September tenth, I was in a taxi running late for dinner, cursing the traffic, wishing for different weather. You wouldn’t have known that two weeks earlier I had not only survived a bus crash in (of all places) Pakistan, but had walked away unscathed—and not just a crash, but a dive off a bridge where we landed belly-up, the roof in a ravine.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

The kind Pakistani doctor who examined me asked what I was doing on a bus in his country with a splenic cyst that would have killed me had it burst in the crash.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

Two days before that, the treacherous run across a rockslide above a raging river in the Hunza Valley where the first bus had to stop. We hiked with packs on our backs. And had good reason in that instance for chin forward, shoulders hunched, blowing by the given while chasing down the made.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

Yet there I was two weeks later in a taxi back in Manhattan, cursing the traffic and wishing for different weather on the night of September tenth. I knew better than to be going about my days like that.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

And shortly after that I fell in love with a woman who won my heart when she laughed and laughed hard at my story of the bus crash the night I met her. Few if any before her had laughed at all, let alone hard.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

Then we got married and had three extraordinary children whose own mortality keeps me perched above an abyss. God forbid that they would ever predecease me.

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

One day in the 1990s I went to the top of the World Trade Center and saw something unforgettable: its twin shadows extending from lower Manhattan to the edge of Queens.

The dissolution of that indomitable sight merits comparison to the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem for more than one reason. But surely one reason is that the twin pillars, Jachin and Boaz, meant, respectively, “He will establish” and “By strength.”

If this isn’t an emergency, please hang up and dial 9/11.

Eleven years later, it seems to me that we still don’t know what hit us.

About Bradford Winters

Bradford Winters is a screenwriter/producer in television whose work has included such series as Oz, Kings, Boss, and The Americans. His poems have appeared in Sewanee Theological Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Georgetown Review, among other journals. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.

  • Tamara

    Thank you so much for this – it helps. I lost a childhood friend on 9/11, and I think you’ve precisely summed up my reactions as well: the struggle to try to live differently, to make a more graceful, kind countenance our new normal. It is just that, a struggle, but hopefully we can all struggle together.

  • Brad Winters

    Thanks for writing, Tamara. So sorry to hear about your loss. Wishing you well on this bright dark day…

  • http://www.thisistheedge.org Grant Williams

    My comment is political. I feel hesitant to go there but this is just too compelling. I will always be haunted by 9/11….as I am by the assasinations of the 60′s. What hit us was a conspiracy of shadows within our own government. I know, old story, boring, like Brad’s cab drive on the 10th as he forgot in haste how precious life is after his close call so far away in a land of people that now hate us. It boggles my mind how many people in power choose to remain asleep. I will never believe what hit us came from abroad. There are too many unanswered questions (blvd. 7) screaming at me. “All I can do is pray”… (Vanilla Fudge…..1969)
    Grant Williams…….. remembering

  • Brad Winters

    While many out there might express this perspective in a blithe spirit, I know that you don’t. Thanks for commenting, Grant.


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