Monday, March 08, 2010

REDUX 2: The End of Trivia (9/11 one year later)

This column appeared in the Coast mountain News at approximately the first anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon

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Another perfect late summer back to school morning in Bella Coola. The river was down from its last rain driven surge and the only sound outside was the distant drone of Wayne Sissons’ Cessna off for some secret cove among the countless such in this seeming untroubled world of the Central Coast. As is I my wont I was limbering my dialing fingers for another go at CBC Daybreak’s trivia contest, a ritual at precisely 6:53 A.M. each day. Although it was only Tuesday, and I had four days left to qualify, I’d be gone all the rest of the week to Port Hardy.

And then as every conscious human being now knows that September 11th morning lurched sickeningly sideways. Co-host Mark Harvey, voice quavering with emotion and disbelief said planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre and there’d be no more trivia that day.

We rushed to the TV and caught first glimpse of images that quickly became emblematic of that day of horror for many weeks and months, probably forever. Within the hour, I learned that like everyone else in North America, I would not be flying that day nor for some time to come. But for the most part locals here were not very immediately affected by the terrorist attacks. Bella Coola Air got special dispensation to fly some stranded travelers in from the wilderness and then we went about things much as before. Of course, our airwaves and newspapers were inundated, first with fast-breaking news and then with specials ranging from benefit concerts to vitriolic debates about “root causes” to a peculiar onslaught of special programming dedicated to sating our sudden appetite for things Islamic.

As time passed and locals eventually made whatever voyages afar had been in their pre-9/11 plans, they probably noticed the stepped-up security – some poor fellow at Dayton International even had to closely inspect my sweaty sneakers - and then by the added costs which Her Majesty graciously passed on to the traveling public in most (though not yet our) airports.

Now a year has passed and like throngs of journalists and pseudo-journalists worldwide, I am drawn like a moth to flame to muse on what it all has meant, what, if anything, has changed. And I must leave to my colleague pundits in lesser outlets like the Globe and Mail or CTV NewsNet, who have more space, time and are paid better, to fill in the big picture of impacts of September 11th on lives, individual, community, national and global.

Here, so far out of the way, the question of how life changed, is if anything, more problematic. Internationally the effects are blatant and innumerable: We know the footprints of those dire events can be tracked forward to numberless further heartbreaks, like four dead Canadians on an Afghan steppe; the tilting and pitching of stock markets around the world; the inspiring collapse of the Taliban, the less inspiring fact that a total nincompoop has achieved one of the highest approval ratings in the history of the American presidency.

Yes, the world turned upside down. But here? The economy slides downward but on an incline that was quite evident well before Bin Laden dispatched his disciples on their mission of terror. Nighttime TV has changed a bit with some too-close-for-comfort action shows being canned or postponed and the irrepressible Politically Incorrect Host, Bill Moyer, indeed being repressed for daring to criticize U.S. military wisdom, such as it is. Around the world, young men of swarthy complexion and unrecognized accent find air travel uncomfortable at the very least.

But again, these are distant things. The Bella Coola River rushes onward as do the comings and goings of our seasons and people – and, how we too have lost so many dear folks since last year albeit as a steady current of emigration and fatality rather than in one cataclysmic moment! Which brings me in my crabby side-wise fashion to the point that perhaps what changed most and, I hope, enduringly, right here in Bella Coola as in so many sleepy hollows all over this continent – is the heightened sanctity we now attach to what, before that September morning, seemed so trivial -- the smile we can bring to another’s face with the smallest act of good humour or forgiveness; the extra pause taken to appreciate the mere continued existence of people and things we previously took more for granted; the next breath and the one after of some withered old-timer whose knee we once sat upon. And, as always, we turn to the radiant, close-to-God forms of our children with the twofold sentiment – “thank heavens I still have them; thank heavens that they were not among the many so suddenly orphaned one year ago.”

At 6:53 each morning the new hosts of CBC Daybreak still call forth devotees to what they call “trivia” and I even sometimes succumb to dialing in with an answer, though probably less often because of the memory of Mark Harvey’s solemn pronouncement that morning. But way back in my mind, a new small voice is arguing that in this year since some 3,000 souls were so pointlessly, so obscenely destroyed, nothing is trivial anymore.