Writers’ Trigger: It always drives me crazy when in the process of defending a personal point of view, someone will say, “Well… everyone I talk to…” They say this as though statistically, based on the number of people whom they’ve talked to, their point of view is correct. When in fact, they are only talking to people who think exactly like they do.
Sometimes it is good to get your characters out of their own space. To that end, I will list eight characters, and you will choose any two and bring them together in some sort of interchange. You may choose from the following: a stockbroker, a tightrope walker, a street sweeper, a party planner, a foreigner who speaks little English, a homeless person, a psychiatrist, and a prisoner who has begun serving a 20-year sentence.
September 11th. The media is full of it. There is nothing to add, except my own personal experience which was so different from anyone else’s that I have never been able to actually get in step with the general horror of the day.
I was flying home from London. I can’t remember why I was flying Delta, but my flight was headed to Atlanta and from there I would fly on to Denver. The flight was half full. As soon as the plane was airborne, everyone moved from his assigned seat so as to have two seats for the duration of the flight. Half way into the flight, we experienced extreme turbulence. Everyone and everything was locked down. And then the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. He began: “I have bad news.” He continued. “I have” (and at this point his voice cracked) “very bad news.”
No one wants to be on a flight flown by a pilot whose voice cracks. My first thought was that we were going down. I envisioned icebergs and really cold water. I wished that I had listened better when the flight attendant had talked of what to do should we experience a water landing. I thought of the Titanic. Would we have lifeboats?
New York, the pilot added, was under terrorist attack, and our flight was being diverted to St. John’s Newfoundland. And then (and this was brilliant) he said that he would relay all radio transmissions to the cabin so that the passengers would simultaneously hear what he was hearing.
We heard about the first tower, the second tower, and the Pentagon. We landed in St. John’s. We waited on the tarmac for hours. The official reason was that St. John’s (which was used to receiving three international flights a week) was about to welcome 26 flights; I’m guessing that the unofficial reason was that security was checking flight manifestos – looking for a possible terrorists amongst the in-coming flights.
When we left the plane, we were given transparent plastic bags for our passports and money. All else would remain on the plane. We first went to a hocky rink while the Newfoundlanders sorted out where we would stay. Meanwhile, banks of phones had been installed at the rink, and we were invited to make a three-minute call to one person who would relay to family and friends that we were safe in St. John’s.
My flight was sent to Mary’s Sacred Heart Regional High School. We were to sleep on wrestling mats – four to a mat. I was the last to arrive in the room to which I had been assigned. Two places remained on the last mat. A Chinese man stood looking askance at the mat. I suggested to him that he might be more comfortable sleeping on the outside. I would take the place in the middle. His face registered surprise. Did he think that I had propositioned him? Whatever, he fled and I did not see him again.
Our blankets were warm – straight off the beds of the residents of St. John’s. An endless line of cars drove up to the front doors of the school, slowed down and tossed blankets into the outstretched arms of students. I can’t tell you how this outpouring of compassion affected me. The blankets were warm – just off their beds…
While the rest of the world was watching 9/11 on television, I was in another space. I was looking out another window. I was experiencing a smoothly orchestrated response to disaster and human-to-human outreach with no strings attached. No one asked me about my religious beliefs, my political affiliation or sexual orientation.
The greater St. John’s community and the staff and students at Mary’s Sacred Heart cacooned us with field trips, pub crawls, nature walks, art lessons, massage and complimentary manicures. For those traveling with children, the students led playgroups and day camp. Television viewing was discouraged. I found it hard to write. The students had been urged to engage people off on their own. No one was left to brood. My sitting alone in a corner trying to write was not an option.
Our flight was the first international flight to arrive in Atlanta. And much to our surprise, hugging, kissing and clapping airport employees formed a welcoming committee. It was unreal. I kept thinking, “What’s all the fuss?”
I tell this story because it illustrates the notion that the world is one big house, and some of the windows face east; others face west, north or south. There is no way we can look through multiple windows at the same time.
We can, of course, but we have to take our eyes off our window and look through someone else’s window.