I had been up all night the morning of Sept. 11 and was watching a movie on television that I knew would make me cry: “An Affair to Remember,” a bittersweet love story starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. I was debating whether or not to continue watching it because I dreaded the heartbreaking ending. I wasn’t sure if I could handle it, since I was already depressed and in a vulnerable frame of mind. No, I thought, in the end the story is a triumph of the power of love over adversity. The film is ultimately inspirational.
Roughly halfway into the film Grant is waiting for his lover, Kerr, on the tallest building in New York City, the Empire State. A year ago they had agreed to meet on this day, at the top of this grand landmark. However, she fails to meet him; a serious automobile accident interrupts her arrival, leaving him heartbroken, and ignorant of her hospitalization and paralysis. He waits for hours, through the lightning strikes and roaring thunder of a fierce storm that began just before Kerr’s accident. In time with the increasing intensity of the storm the reality of the situation becomes clear to him. He feels more and more dejected as the hours pass, but eventually he resolutely accepts this fate and leaves on his own.
Eventually, Cary Grant’s character succeeds in becoming an accomplished painter, with his muse and patron saint being his long lost love. She believes, falsely, that because of her disability the honorable thing to do is to never let him know the truth. She values his happiness and well being over her own. He eventually tracks her down when she buys one of his paintings (a portrait of herself) and learns the truth, and they are finally and forever reunited. A happy ending, but also bittersweet. All the more true?
I was still under this film’s spell when the phone rang. It was a friend asking if I had long distance, so he could call home to New York.
He then asked if I knew about what happened. He told me that the Pentagon and the World Trade Center had been bombed. I said “No, you’re kidding … ” but from the tone of his voice I knew that he wasn’t, and when I turned the channel, I saw for myself something unreal happening. The billowing smoke clouds reminded me of watching Mt. St. Helens erupt as a child. It was impossible. Me being ever the graphic designer/reductionist, as I watched the live footage the possibility that I may be viewing a hoax, some expertly doctored footage ran through my head. I thought of Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio program and had to admit that it could be faked. What I was seeing mirrored the apocalyptic scenes of exploding buildings and other highly recognizable landmarks, being blown away in films like “Mars Attacks,” “Deep Impact” and “Independence Day.” I even remember being in the audience with cheers ringing out as each structure was exploded. But of course this wasn’t symbolic or entertaining imagery, it was really happening.
How could that really be happening? I do not think most of us are completely past the first stage of grief: denial. Those scenes were, and are, truly sickening to see. That is something that hasn’t changed over the weeks.
There were more than a few glimmers of light amidst the terror. Thank God for Guiliani. He made the horror seem manageable, or that it would at least someday be manageable, that at some point in the future we would be able think of something else. Well it is true that we have all managed, but undeniably we are a part of a different world now. I will continue to focus on the glimmers of light, and keep moving.
I cannot read the news everyday anymore; I have to have that info relayed to me in manageable packets or it overwhelms me and I can’t keep moving. When I feel the weight of it on me, as the weeks pass and still the rubble of the WTC is smoking, I try to think of the struggles my Grandparents overcame in their lives by persevering. Their strength of character enabled them to pick up and go on, over and over again.
Going on has everything to do with the enduring nature of our hearts and spirit. After the terror of Sept. 11, I am more determined to go on, and be successful. It has become more important to me to be a part of this world when faced with such an aberration. That destruction is a sickness of humanity, which is a part of us, but it really comes down to a choice. You have to give your soul away. It can’t be taken from you. Here is the harsh truth (ironically, it works equally well as an affirmation) I want to impart to you. Life goes on.