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Innocence lost
Tied up to the tragic events that unfolded on September 11

By Nastaran Sinai
September 18, 2001
The Iranian

On Thursday August 23, 2001, news headlines screamed of the stunt performed by French daredevil Thierry Devaux who, with the help of a motorized fan and an orange parachute, tried to land on the Statue of Liberty, undoubtedly America's most famous symbol. That is, until September 11, 2001, less than a month later, when another assault on an American landmark, also arriving by air, crowned the twin towers of the World Trade Center with this now bloody title.

I think back to that time in the summer, when Michael and I watched the pink-suited Frenchman's ridiculous stunt on TV, which resulted, fortunately, in no injuries to himself or the rescue workers who plucked him from Lady liberty's Torch. Yet it grabbed the headlines of every newspaper, TV, and radio show for days. The mood of those reports was generally merry and tongue-in-cheek, as the reporters and the general population smiled and laughed at this strange man who appeared out of nowhere (actually, he took off from Bayonne, New Jersey) to end up dangling from Ellis Island's most famous resident for his fifteen minutes of fame.

The hilarity of the usually jaded New York City residents persisted, even in the face of Mayor Giuliani's grumpy chiding of the unlucky stuntman, for putting the lives of his rescue helpers unnecessarily at risk. If only he knew of the terrible event that was to fall on his rescue helpers in less than a month, would he have been more indulgent?...

Today, a week after the city of New York was brought down to its knees by two planes piloted by soul-less killing machines (I can't qualify them even with the term of "human being"), I look back on those last days of the summer and tears fill my eyes at the innocence we have all lost, in this city, in this country, in this world.

The silly apparition from the flying Frenchman dropping from the sky onto America's foremost landmark now seems like a grim forewarning of the horrors to come, also by air, also, seemingly, out of nowhere. My heart drops at the thought of those rescue workers from the Fire Department of New York and the Port Authorities who pulled Mr. Deveaux from the top of the Statue of Liberty. Where are they now? Are they caught under tons of concrete and steel rubble? Or are they digging their way in there trying to rescue their comrades?

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the piercing shrieks of the phone pleaded with the two sleeping residents of a cozy apartment in upstate New York to abandon their peaceful slumber. Michael got up before me ( He is such a light sleeper) and answered the phone's plea. It was his sister-in-law. The first thing she asked him was if we were "okay". Still groggy, he answered: "Yeah... sure... Why shouldn't we be?" It was then that she broke the news to him.

At that time, the second plane had just perforated the top of the second tower, but the WTC was still standing. When I heard him say, repeatedly, "Oh my God," I opened my eyes in turn. He hung up the receiver and, in a disbelieving tone, relayed the news to me. We immediately turned on the TV and that is when the horror hit us. It had begun much earlier for those people trapped in that inferno.

The images on the TV did not make any sense. I stood there frozen, I couldn't even sit on the couch. I couldn't make sense of those blazing images and I kept picturing that night, at the beginning of summer, when we celebrated our school graduation at Windows on the World. The beautiful view of the City from the top of that high-rise. The vast shopping mall I explored time and time again in the basement level of the WTC. The endless walks on sunny mornings and rainy afternoons along the Hudson, down from Tribeca into the Financial District, circling the twin towers again and again, each time with a different person, usually a visitor being guided through all the touristy landmarks.

After the first tower collapsed, my first instinct was to grab the phone. But it wasn't working. Panicked at the thought of my parents watching the same images far away in a different country and thinking the worst, as they are apt to do, I hurried out of the apartment looking for a payphone, anything that would work. After an endless amount of time running in and out of stores, up and down the streets of our small town, where every person I passed by had the tragedy on their lips, I finally made a connection. My father answered with an already worried voice, and he did not seem much relieved at hearing me. We talked shortly, and it was on my way home that I found out, from a passer-by, that the second tower had collapsed.

From then on, our phone worked intermittently. When it did work, it was ringing off the hook, with all our friends and relatives calling us with the same worried tone as my father. We spent that whole day alternatively on the phone, glued to the TV, or packing... Oh yeah, packing, of all things... Michael reports to his military fort on today. In fact, he has left on the long drive. What does the future hold for him, for us? It is all now tied up to the tragic events that unfolded on September 11, 2001. What seemed like a routine job now takes on terrible connotations for me. What a time to join the army, I worry selfishly, at the same time that I am proud of him for what he is doing. Every day, George Bush's words become more charged, and the talk of war more "real".

As I sit and watch the distraught faces on TV of family and friends looking for their loved ones, those most wretched of victims among all of us (for we are all victims of these acts of terrorism), I shudder to think when my turn will come to not only empathize with them but join their ranks...

If a Third World War is about to erupt, as many are predicting, some with eagerness, how long before I too walk the deserted desolate streets once so familiar and innocent, clutching a faded, wrinkled picture of a most cherished friend or relative, hoping like they hope today that life can somehow emerge from those merciless ashes.

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