Germany, history, lessons learned, politicians, politics

Twenty years after 9/11, basic decency is disappearing…

A couple of years ago, I wrote my 9/11 story and posted it on this blog. Almost everybody who was alive on 9/11/01 has a 9/11 story. I guess the only ones who don’t are those who were somehow unconscious that day. Or maybe people who live in remote places they have never left, where the world’s news can’t reach them.

Suffice to say, those of us who live in the modern world, where there’s television and Internet, have a 9/11 story. Or, at the very least, they’ve heard other people’s memories of that day, if they weren’t around at that time. Like… I wasn’t here for John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but I’ve read and heard plenty of stories of that day. I think 9/11 was much bigger than Kennedy’s assassination. 9/11 permanently changed the world.

I remember 9/11 very well. It was the week after Bill and I, then just “friends”, had a magical Labor Day weekend. No one in our families knew we were dating. So, when Bill went to work at the Pentagon on 9/11, no one knew that he had a special friend who would worry all day, wondering if he had survived. After 9/11, we decided that we needed to make our relationship official. A few months later, we were engaged. We married in 2002.

I remember what it was like for Bill in the days that followed September 11, 2001. At that time, people had come together in solidarity. There were people who offered their support to any and all emergency workers. Police officers, nurses, doctors, military service members, firefighters, were all being heralded as heroes. I remember how people would stop Bill when he was in uniform and thank him for his service.

I read a story this morning about a couple who happened to be on a flight from England bound for Houston, Texas that got diverted to Gander, a small town in Newfoundland, Canada. They fell in love while they were stranded in Canada. Aside from falling in love, the couple, along with all of the other 7000 people who were suddenly diverted to Gander because of terrorism, enjoyed the most extraordinary hospitality from the locals in Gander.

Americans were Americans, before they were Democrats or Republicans. People came together to help each other through a crisis. It wasn’t just Americans, either. I wasn’t in Germany at that time, but this morning, I read an article about what it was like in Stuttgart on 9/11. Germans and Americans stood side by side in solidarity as people made sense of what happened.

Above is a post that reminded me about how Germans and Americans came together after 9/11. That photo brought tears to my eyes yesterday, partly because I was moved, and partly because it probably wouldn’t happen in 2021.

Twenty years later, it seems like most of the goodwill and civility that was so prevalent after 9/11 is gone. Now, on 9/11/21, we have people laughing at teenagers who share personal stories about losing family members to COVID-19. Grady Knox, a high school student in Tennessee, bravely tried to explain why he thinks mask mandates are a good thing to have in his school. People told him to shut up. It could not have been easy for Grady to stand up and talk about losing his grandmother. Public speaking is not easy for a lot of people. But for him to stand up and speak and then have his neighbors laugh at him and tell him to shut up… well, that’s just shameful. And it makes me think that those people are not good people. They have learned nothing, and have no empathy for others.

What the hell is WRONG with people?

Today, we have governors who are more interested in money and power than they are in saving human lives (except for the unborn, of course). Joe Biden– recently reviled for the way the U.S. military FINALLY left Afghanistan after twenty long years– delivered a tough speech, expressing how disappointed he is in the complete lack of concern Republican leaders have for their constituents. Biden has been threatened with lawsuits, as he signs legislation mandating that people in certain workplaces get vaccinated against COVID-19. Biden is not looking so wimpy now, as he tells the governors to “have at it” in their plans to sue him.

President Joe Biden on Thursday issued two executive orders mandating vaccines for federal workers and contractors and announced new requirements for large employers and health care providers that he said would affect around 100 million workers, more than two-thirds of the U.S. workforce.

From MSNBC: https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/why-republicans-hope-derail-biden-s-bold-new-vaccine-policy-n1278900?cid=sm_fb_maddow&fbclid=IwAR07wYh1NCrCl2lTB2R_sMkiCVLML7tycCXzr-Srn8oyNeQuZhq0JtZjvOY

I read one comment from a Republican who said if Donald Trump had ever tried to enforce vaccinations, people would be “horrified” and calling for Trump’s head on a platter. However, I think it’s highly unlikely that Trump would have ever done what Joe Biden is doing. Trump does not care about anyone but himself, and he would not have done something that would alienate his conservative base the way the vaccine and mask mandates would have. There is a huge difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Joe Biden has basic decency and respect for others. Donald Trump, simply put, does not.

Donald Trump’s encouragement to get the vaccine was lukewarm… he got boos and laughter. I think he’s created monsters.
Southerners who are getting sick aren’t thinking of anyone but themselves… until they get sick and realize just how fucking horrible COVID is.

Today, we have governors who are gleefully signing legislation that pits neighbors against each other, and puts bounties on the heads of women who seek abortions. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott is fine with people walking around, spreading COVID-19 as they tote their guns openly and run their mouths about their freedoms. Freedom means nothing if you’re dead… but try to explain that to some of these folks. They insist that COVID-19 is not a risk for them or or their families… or anyone else. Somehow, they’ve managed to ignore the news stories and documentaries about people who have had COVID-19. They’ve even managed to ignore Howard Stern, who has berated the willfully ignorant.

I can’t wait to vote for whomever runs against this man.
I empathize with his frustration.

This antipathy especially happens on the Internet. Even on the most benign of posts, there’s a chance someone will lash out with nastiness or unnecessary snark. Yesterday, I was answering a question on Toytown Germany from an American who is trying to get her US Moderna shots recognized by a local pharmacist, so she can enjoy a more normal life. I expressed empathy for her situation, commenting that it would be nice if we had a more global solution that would make it easier for people from all countries to get their shots recognized. It’s in everyone’s best interests to encourage the vaccines and reward people for doing the right thing. You’d think that would be a pretty innocuous comment, right? I certainly didn’t think it would go south.

Sure enough, some guy from up north responded snarkily, by sharing a picture of the yellow World Health Organization booklet, and writing that is the global standard that works fine. Yes, it’s true, that yellow booklet is used around the world. But, for some reason, the CDC isn’t using it, so that comment isn’t helpful. There are a lot of Americans who live in Germany. Some of them got shots when they went to the USA, where they were easier to get. Then they came back to Germany and, if they live in an area where there aren’t a lot of Americans, are not able to get their vaccines made official in Germany. This is a problem. I was trying to help someone solve the problem for themselves. For my efforts, I got a shitty comment from some smartass who thought that was the right time to act like a jerk.

I could have ignored it entirely. Or I could have responded with a snarky comment of my own. Instead, I agreed that the yellow booklet is useful around the world, but it’s not helpful to Americans in Germany right now. Americans aren’t issued the yellow booklets, even though that would make things easier. Being rude to me doesn’t change that fact. And then I added that I was trying to be nice, and being snarky and negative isn’t helpful to the community. Those kinds of crappy responses just discourage people from posting, which defeats the purpose of having an online community… or any community, really. Why try to help someone if you’re going to be mocked for your efforts?

I realize that even as I preach about this, I’m as guilty as anyone is. I do try not to respond to people with rudeness. Sometimes, I will admit, I fail. Because, like so many other people, I’m fed up. I’m tired of people who can’t simply cooperate and have basic respect for other people. But still, I think being kind is the better way to go, most of the time. I truly do believe that being understanding and decent is, overall, better than being angry, mean, malicious, and rude. There really is enough of that in the world today.

I think it’s sad that we haven’t learned much from 9/11. On September 11, 2001, people around the world came together in solidarity. On September 11, 2021, a lot of people are acting like selfish jerks. It’s depressing… although, I guess if I look for it, I can find some positive things about today. Like, for instance, the fact that Bill was not killed on 9/11, and despite everything, we’re still together and basically healthy and happy with each other’s company. But it’s hard to ignore all of the divisiveness and evil that is being perpetuated right now.

When things were good…
Twenty years later, when things had really gone to shit.

I do hope that people will find a way to come together. Right now, I’m reminded of the opening of the film, Lean on Me… as we see how things can change for the worse in 20 years. Maybe a new version of Mr. Clark is in order to straighten us all out… Maybe Joe Biden is turning into him now. One can always hope, right?

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memories

September 11th

It’s that time of year again. Ever since September 11, 2001, Americans go into memorial mode and recall the day when our country was attacked and life changed forever. I have shared this story before, but since it’s September 11th again, I’m going to write about how I spent that day and where it ultimately led me.

I am a firm believer that good things come out of almost every situation. Sometimes you have to look really hard to see the good in a situation. Sometimes things happen that you wish wouldn’t have happened, no matter what positive effect occurred. In my case, I think September 11th helped me find my way to the altar and, ultimately, a better life. I wish it hadn’t happened that way, but it kind of did…

Flashback to 2001… Labor Day weekend. I had just started my third and final year in my dual master’s degree program at the University of South Carolina. Bill had just been transferred from Leavenworth, Kansas to the Pentagon only a few weeks prior. We were both itching for a change of scenery, so I suggested we meet up at my grandmother’s house in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Prior to that meeting, we’d only had one other in person meeting, back in May of that year. The Army had sent Bill to Columbia, South Carolina on business, like they’d done the year prior. I missed Bill on his first visit, but caught him on his second.

I remember after our May meeting, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him. He seemed taken with me and repeatedly told me that it would be hard to go back to typing since he’d met me. But then all summer, we kept writing to each other. Seeing him again over Labor Day seemed right. He came down, met my aunt, uncle, and grandmother, and we spent a magical weekend together. We visited Goshen Pass and had a fantastic time…

I took this picture in November 2014, but we visited in September 2001, when it was hot enough for swimming. It was so much fun!

As Bill was leaving Granny’s house, she told me that I should marry him. Granny was, at that time, 95 years old and sharp as a tack. She loved Bill, and after that weekend, so did I. I remember practically floating all the way back to South Carolina. All week, I thought about our amazing Labor Day weekend in Virginia. And then came September 11th.

That morning was absolutely beautiful. The weather was warm and sunny, but not oppressively hot. I wore a short black skirt, bright blue long sleeved blouse, and black tights. Back then, I dressed up most days because I had to look professional. I was planning to actually be a professional, rather than an overeducated housewife. I had to go to my field placement at the Recovering Professionals Program. I was compiling data for a project I was working on when my friend, Jennifer, told me about the first plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. I didn’t think much of it at the time. She’d heard about it on the radio, so had no visual appreciation for what had happened.

Then the second plane hit.

Next thing I knew, the Pentagon was hit… And I realized that Bill, unofficially my new boyfriend, was at the Pentagon. Bill’s office had just been moved to a different location. It was originally in the area that was hit by the jet airliner that crashed into the Pentagon that day. If they hadn’t moved his office, he probably would have died on 9/11. Then, another plane went down in Pennsylvania. It seemed like the world was ending.

All day long, I wondered if Bill was dead or alive. I was still calling him my “friend”, but I knew we had more than friendship. I’d been chatting with him since November 1999, when we were both making new beginnings. He had separated from his ex wife and I had started grad school. We’d chatted platonically for a few months before he told me about his wife and children. I remember being shocked and sad for him… and, if I’m honest, a little sad for me. I knew I liked him, even in early 2000. But, he was in Kansas; I was in South Carolina; and I never had any intention of ever meeting him offline, let alone marrying him.

But then Ex served Bill with divorce papers at his father’s house over Easter 2000. They were divorced by June 2000. She had a boyfriend living in the house Bill was still paying for, and he was playing “daddy” to Ex’s three kids– two of whom were Bill’s daughters. She gladly took his money every month, but pushed him out of their children’s lives. Bill’s replacement is still married to her and they have had two more children. We hear #3 doesn’t get treated very well at all, but back then, according to her, new boyfriend was practically perfect, and Bill was a bastard who had ruined everything. Ex told Bill no other woman would ever want him. She didn’t know about me.

Fate conspired to have us meet. It was as if the stars aligned for our unlikely union. My aunt’s brother, Ralph, met Bill at a National Guard convention just a few weeks before I met him in person. Ralph is a retired Guardsman as well as a retired Virginia State Trooper. He assured me Bill wasn’t a psycho. I felt safe in meeting him in May 2001 and again in September 2001. By the time Labor Day 2001 was over, I knew I could love him. By the time 9/11 was over, I knew I wanted to marry him.

My mom and I talked on the phone and she told me not to expect to hear from Bill for awhile. Mom is a very experienced Air Force wife, so she was giving me practical advice about Bill, even though she’d never met him and was hearing of my “boyfriend” for the first time. As soon as I hung up the phone, Bill sent me a message on Yahoo! Messenger, letting me know he was okay. He had tried to call me, but the phone number he had for me was one digit off. I swear it wasn’t on purpose that the number was wrong. I probably just forgot it myself. No one ever calls me anyway, even back in 2001, when someone might have a reason to call.

I was very relieved that Bill had survived the terrorist attack, especially since he could have been killed just for being at the Pentagon, and would have been killed if his office hadn’t been moved. And I told him it was time we came out of the closet and told our families we were dating, because if something had happened to him, I never would have been informed. Bill agreed. Weeks later, he and his mom joined my big family at our annual Thanksgiving party in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Bill told him mom he was thinking of proposing and his mom, who was never a fan of Ex, said, “I approve.”

A year later, on November 16th, 2002, Bill and I were married at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. My dad was a graduate, as is an uncle and several cousins. Another uncle and at least two aunts worked at VMI. It’s about fifteen miles from Natural Bridge, which is where my dad’s family calls home. Just last week, 23andMe introduced me to a long, lost relative whose biological father was my great uncle. He was from Natural Bridge, too. It’s fitting that we were married in Rockbridge County, since that’s really my home, even if I never officially lived there.

One of the things that went right on our wedding day.

Our wedding day was imperfect, to say the least. Although the ceremony itself was beautiful and meaningful, some things went horribly awry. The most memorable SNAFU involved Bill’s dad, who was also his best man, locking his knees and almost fainting before we said our vows. And then, after the wedding, we spent two weeks unofficially married, because somehow our marriage license got lost in the mail. It was put in a mailbox in Lexington just after the ceremony, but the Rockbridge County clerk’s office either never got it or misplaced it.

In 2002, Virginia law stipulated, and still stipulates, that newly married couples have five days to file their marriage licenses after the ceremony. Otherwise, the license is null and void. I was waiting for the official license to get to us, but it never did. Bill called the county clerk’s office and was treated very badly by the staff. Eventually, the county clerk got on the phone and told Bill that even if the license was somehow found, it would not be honored, since it got to them beyond the deadline.

Bill and I went to the court in Fredericksburg, Virginia, which was where we were living at the time. We explained our situation, but they told us there was nothing they could do, as we were already “married”. But we were not officially married, so we couldn’t take care of any personal business. And Rockbridge County was telling us that even if they received our license, the deadline had passed and they would not be honoring it. The court clerk was very uncooperative and unhelpful, and offered no solutions on what we could do to fix the situation. In fact, he became quite belligerent with Bill and accused him of being “abusive” (which is real laugh– good thing he didn’t speak to me).

I was shocked by this turn of events… especially since I’ve always known people in Rockbridge County to be nice and helpful, but then in the wake of our wedding, discovered that there are some real assholes living there. My family has been in that county for a couple hundred years and I am probably related to many people who live there and haven’t left… and a lot of people haven’t left. I’m sure some people think I’m an asshole, too, but I can’t imagine why that clerk wasn’t more sympathetic to our situation. What were we supposed to do? Was he on some kind of power trip?

Fortunately, Bill is used to dealing with assholes and he’s also a very tenacious, yet pleasant, polite, and even-keeled kind of guy. He called Virginia’s Attorney General’s office to find out who the Rockbridge County court clerk worked for. Next, realizing it was an election year, he called both our local representative and Rockbridge County’s representative, explained the situation, and told them that he was a 9/11 survivor. I couldn’t get a new Social Security card, military ID, or any other benefits until the clerk did the job the people elected him to do.

Both representatives lit a fire under the clerk’s ass and after our officiant sent him a copy of the license application, the clerk begrudgingly handed over our official license, albeit with a nasty letter falsely accusing Bill of being “abusive” and admitting that he hadn’t wanted to help him because, basically, his feelings were hurt. Seriously?

I don’t like to call people snowflakes, but that guy must be a big one if my husband hurt his feelings. Wow. I have a feeling that the guy was just angry that Bill didn’t let him bully him and demanded that the clerk do his fucking job. Seems to be a trend in our marriage… People mistake Bill’s kindness for weakness and think they can steamroll him, make threats and false accusations, and take advantage. But I know the truth. Underneath that pleasant exterior beats the heart of a true warrior… and anyone who crosses Bill should remember that he makes his living planning battles. Yes, he’s a super nice guy, but he’s neither stupid nor cowardly, and especially now, he doesn’t tolerate bullies (including Ex).

I won’t even get into what Ex thought of our nuptials. Oh, okay… I’ll say this. When Bill told her he was going to propose to me, she asked if I was LDS. Bill and Ex were “sealed” for eternity and, at the time, he was still Mormon. So she wanted to know if I was going to be joining the fold. He said I wasn’t. She said he must love me very much. She was referring to the idea that Bill was giving up “eternal glory” to marry a “Gentile” (that is, a non-Mormon with no plans to convert). We would not be “sister wives” in the hereafter, and she couldn’t use her position as Bill’s first wife and mother of his kids, or LDS “teachings”, to cow me into submission.

In November, we will have been happily married for seventeen years. They have been seventeen years well spent. Would we have gotten married if not for 9/11? Probably. But I think 9/11 definitely sped things along and forced us to admit our feelings and tremendous chemistry for each other. We’ve had our share of problems from the outside, but our marriage has always been rock solid. We get along ridiculously well, and work as partners.

There were some things in my life that I didn’t do right, but I did find the right life partner. And as horrible as 9/11 was, it did show me that I had found the right man and I didn’t want to lose him. So… while I will always feel somber for the many people who died or were injured due to terrorism on 9/11/01, I will also remember that day as the day my life changed for the better. But I will also always remember that it was also a very dark day, as it took away America’s innocence and, I’m sorry to say, its collective spirit of generosity. I truly hope we get some of that kindness back in my lifetime.

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