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Nothing Else Matters

By Jason Comerford

Jason Comerford, a frequent contributor to FSM, sounds off on the New World...

I was a seven-year-old kid when I first found out about death. I had found a baby squirrel that had fallen out of its nest in the woods behind my house. Because I was seven, I was convinced that Mom and Dad could make it feel better. Several hours worth of caretaking were eventually proven futile; the squirrel died on me as we were in the car headed to the vet's office. I remember being devastated, thinking I'd never get over something like this ever again.

Some 15 years later, I sat in a kitchen, watching a television and seeing, through hazy reception, planes crashing and buildings collapsing, and thought the same thing I had thought so many years ago. How could I ever get over something like this? Is such a
thing really possible?

My generation is one that's graduated college, or near to that point, or slightly beyond that point. And, drugged into the stupor of capitalist consumerism, we blithely never thought we'd have to deal with a real, live war. (The one "war" of my generation -- the
Gulf War -- played out like a large-scale video game. CNN ran battle reports and kill counts like they were box scores.) In the past we've seen footage on the evening news of buildings destroyed, communities uprooted, families slaughtered. We've tsk-tsked the
atrocities, but politely, over our cups of Starbucks coffee, discussing both Bosnia and basketball in the same water-cooler conversations with alarming ease.

Understand also that my generation has never had a Great Cause. We'd heard tales, of course, of the '60s (the word always capitalized in the speech patterns of those who were there, who lived it), of a time of great social unrest, of a fight against injustice and persecution. We scoffed at the glassy-eyed idealism of the fifties, and shook our heads at the Vietnam veterans who insisted, you can't know what it was like, you weren't there.

Everything's different now. Like those veterans, we're there. We have images burned into our minds' eyes that will never go away. The planes hitting the World Trade Center -- first one, then the other, the fireballs huge and impossible, beautifully horrible, horribly beautiful. The gash cut into the Pentagon, a tooth messily knocked out of a prizefighter's mouth. People falling from the upper floors of the World Trade Center, flailing for stories like puppets with heartbeats. The collapse of the two towers -- moments that each stretched into eternity -- and the dust cloud that hung over New York City for days. We're in the same boat as those Vietnam veterans now, dragged screaming into a distressingly similar conflict, against an equally faceless enemy.

And you heard it over and over again from the eyewitnesses: "It was like a movie."

Like everything else in this country, the movies will be different from now on. Escapism, after all, is both a combination of fantasy and nightmare -- watching the White House get blown to smithereens in Independence Day used to be a kick. It was a skin-crawling
reminder of what could happen, which was then refuted less than two hours later by the machinations of Brave American Heroes. The ultimate horror smoothly replaced by the ultimate triumph.

That's America, after all. We're a country built on a foundation of rebels. We've spent much of our history fighting wars. Even if we're not fighting, we're looking for something to fight for. Now that we have something, we're not sure we want it. We caution ourselves at every turn to make the socially responsible decisions, relying on each other to keep ourselves in check. But what we all really want to do is scream, "Fuck you!" sticking a middle finger into the face of those that are responsible while loading the shotgun with the other hand. That's America, after all -- we need a scapegoat.

I think we're going to see an end to the frivolousness of the movies, at least in the terms of carelessness with life. Gone -- at least, for a while -- will be the splashy big-budget action extravaganzas, with body counts in the hundreds. Seeing thousands of people die
in an instant -- that instant replayed over and over again by the news anchors -- has taken something away from the vicarious thrill that we used to get.

But at the same time, it's terribly, terribly sad that people will flock to the other kinds of escapism. Because those other kinds -- romantic comedies, kids' movies, et al -- they'll probably just remind audiences of the basics. Love conquers all; the good guy always gets the girl and kills the bad guy. But we're living in a different world now, where everything seems different, viewed through a very different kind of prism, from a very different angle. How important will those old virtues be in this frightening new place? Will they remain the same? We'd sure like to believe so, but we just don't know. I'd like to think that the eyes of Americans would all be a little more open now, but I can't say for sure.

This and other events in my life of late have convinced me of that. There's nothing we know for sure. We never know when we'll get the chance to do the things we want to do, and the things that we need to do. I drove six hundred miles to visit friends and family the weekend after the attacks, just to make sure I'd have the chance to say what needed to be said. In some cases, I didn't get that chance, and I'm still worried that I never will. But I tried my hardest, and I'm still trying. The day after the attack I sent out emails to everyone I knew, and I realized, as I looked at the number of people I was contacting, that I wasn't as alone in the world as I used to think.

There were a lot of things I was preoccupied with before the eleventh of September. A girl. Paychecks. Car troubles. Bureaucratic nonsense involved with moving to a different state. Many of these don't seem to matter much these days. Those things that do matter
have taken on new shades of meaning. Every day seems like a blessing now; every conversation with a loved one is not long enough; every email from a friend makes your day. And the things that need to be done, the things that need to be said, hang over us
more than they ever have before.

The world's spinning towards a direction that none of us can predict now, and those of us that fancy themselves storytellers, like myself, are gobbling up all the material we can, while at the same time fearing what's coming next. This is a time when those us that create entertainment are pulled in several different directions. But we're all characters now, involved in a story with no end in sight.

I think I'll get over it one day. But I know what I have to do now. And I think this country feels the same way. And maybe one day we'll all emerge with our own stories to tell. I know I will.

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