This is e-mail sent a few days after the terrorists attacks on America on 9/11/01 by Mikki Barry. During the attack she was vacationing in Jamaica. Below she recounts her experiences.
Roy Abdul, the taxi driver who picked us up from the resort said, "I'm so sorry this happened to you. America should crush them." It seemed strange at the time that a man whose face looked so similar to those flashed on our television screen as "suspects" would feel that way. But then, these were suddenly very strange times.
It all began on a beautiful day in paradise. We arose around 7:30 AM so that we would have time to have some breakfast before catching the 8:30 dive boat. The "Reef Freedom" took us to the southern end of Bonaire, to a wonderful dive site called Invisibles where we got to play with spotted cleaning shrimp, see an eagle ray cruise by, and interact with several members of Bonaire's abundant ocean life. It was a very nice dive.
On our trip back to Captain Don's Habitat, Robert, our captain yelled "Dolphins." On the starboard side of the boat we saw first one fin, then another as the herd swam next to the boat. Robert brought the Reef Freedom around and started making circles to create some wake for them to play in. Soon, the dolphins were jumping and twisting, seemingly having a wonderful time frolicking in the waves. The human audience cheered as they entertained us. All too soon it was time to go back to Habitat, but the dolphins had uplifted us. We were a bunch of smiling and giggling fools as we disembarked.
That's when the world as we knew it ended. Lori, one of our group who had gone on ahead came running to the group, white faced. "They're bombing America," she said with a look that I thought nobody could mistake. "You're kidding," someone said. "Do you THINK I'm kidding? They hit New York and Washington."
We ran to the TV in the open air bar and stood there slack jawed. The Pentagon was on fire. The World Trade Centers had been hit. I could only think about my 9 year old daughter, Morgan, who I knew was likely in school 8 miles away from the Pentagon in Great Falls, but the "what ifs" kept invading my thoughts. What if she had stayed home from school and gone shopping with her dad at the Pentagon City Mall. What if the kids had gone on a field trip I had forgotten about. Running for a telephone proved to be a futile proposition. There were simply no lines available. Instead, I bought a 45 minute Internet card and stuck myself at the Internet kiosk in the lobby at Habitat. While I was frantically e-mailing, the first tower of the World Trade Center imploded onto hundreds of rescue workers.
Within 10 minutes I got the answer I was waiting for from my ex husband. Morgan and everyone else I knew was fine. That information was priceless. Others in our group didn't receive their answers as quickly. One had a brother who worked in the Army section of the Pentagon. Concerned wasn't the right word to use. Some chose to deal with the wait by boarding the next dive boat out and taking a few hours of diving. After all, even if the worst had happened to their loved ones, there was nothing we could do from Bonaire. I chose instead to stay behind and relay email messages for others, to let their family know that we were OK.
But were we really OK? Something inside all of us died that day. They say that America's innocence died on November 23, 1963, but I disagree. It was in critical condition for a time, fighting for its life, but it lived again through the "flower power" and "free love" of the 1960s. It took several body blows in years and decades after - Vietnam, Kent State, Three Mile Island, the first bombing of the World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, but still it lived. What happened on September 11, 2001 as the horror unfolded to the point where we were no longer able to grasp the full meaning of the loss of human life, referring to "only 5000
missing" or "only 200 killed" heralded the arrival of America's innocence into the world's shock trauma unit, where its survival is going to be touch and go for a very long time. Given the current overreactions and fear, the prognosis is not good.
The first days and hours after the horrendous acts of a group of profoundly hateful individuals who ironically claim to act in the name of religion, caused further damage to the fragile condition of what was left of America's innocence. The overreactions, the racism, the hatred, and the curtailment of liberties we took for granted likely gave the murderers some kind of perverse pleasure in knowing we had been wounded so deeply. They may have laughed as Americans the world over, and those visiting our country alike were stranded, unable to return home. They may even have been pleased when a New Jersey man tried to run over a Pakistani woman for the crime of looking somewhat like them. I'm certain they would have been most amused at security at Bonaire's Flamingo Airport taking our nail clippers and tweezers from our checked baggage as part of new security measures. They definitely would have been dancing with glee as US Customs at BWI went through each and every piece of our luggage, asking me what prescription medications I was on while foreigners were waved on through.
There's something they didn't expect, however. America's innocence has many cousins, aunts, uncles, children and friends. Many of them stepped forward that horrible day. Determination, drive, perseverance, love, compassion, generosity, and a world togetherness whose like has never been seen before. Countries who were our enemies extended offers of medical aid. Regimes we had criticized censored anti-American web sites. Countries who called us the "Great Satan" denounced the attacks.
As we sat in our hotel room in Bonaire, knowing we would not be returning home as planned on September 12, something else remarkable happened. The Dutch people of the island began flying American flags at half-staff. Perfect strangers stopped us in the streets to tell us they were sorry, and could they help us. Nick, the general manager at Captain Don's shuffled rooms and people around until he could find places for the stranded Americans to stay. The hotel cut our room rates, and even our diving rates. Nick said, "We will not profit from your misery." Sure, the scum sucking scam artists got lots of publicity, and the spammers still filled my email with unwanted garbage while I was trying to get messages back and forth to our group, but none of that was as important as the cab driver who asked the Internet company to download a picture of the American flag for him so he could put it on his cab. He, like so many others, wanted us to know that they were standing up in support of freedom and against an indefensible hatred called terrorism.
When our aircraft touched down at BWI Saturday night, the passengers, who had been left sitting on the tarmac for over 2 hours in Montego Bay with no air conditioning, broke into cheers and wild applause. They were home. There was no more need to watch things from a distance. But what, precisely did we come home TO? Throughout the newfound patriotism and the pride of being an American, there is also a dark side. Things we used to take for granted will never be the same. And if innocence survives at all, it will be a mere shell of itself. Unless, of course, we stop giving in to the fear and maintain the freedom in "the land of the free."
©2001 Mikki Barry