Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11: Ten Years On

Sunrise from Mount Nemrut, Turkey (photos by Yewco)
"We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further — we will realize that humanity is indivisible." ~ Kofi Annan
There's always nostalgia around anniversaries, but "ten" has to be the mother of them all. Nostalgia, as MSNBC "ranter" Touré points out, is generally a wish to relive happy moments, so the media blitz around the tenth anniversary of 9/11 has felt strange. Too much of it seems like a perverse attraction, a rubber-necking impulse to view all the carnage and experience a titillating thrill from a safe distance.

Beirut, Lebanon
On a personal level, it provides a moment to look back over my own life since 9/11. I felt like I was hurled onto a deeper level of understanding by the events as I watched them unfold from my apartment in the Mid-Levels of Hong Kong on that humid evening. Like many others, I thought it was a movie, a remix of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" played out for our specular, digital age. I soon realized it wasn't a farce or the new Batman flick; it was a genuine tragedy, but one that I first thought was a mistake, an accident. At the same moment I also felt that it was too much of a freak occurrence to simply be a plane crash. Then came the second plane. Now it was obvious something more sinister was at stake, that I was witnessing a horror that would shift the paradigm of our age. I stayed up all night looking for answers. Then more planes crashed until it finally seemed over for that day at least.

Pelkor Chode Monastery - Tibet
I had recently started my MA in Applied Linguistics that week and had just returned home from a night class at Hong Kong University when I switched on CNN. 9/11 would eventually play a huge role in determining my thesis. With the support of a beneficent advisor (thanks Phil), I chose to explore the trajectory of my own family - specifically my dad's side as a Sons of Freedom Doukhobor. As a young teen, he was able to escape their influences and carve out a life of his own in the broader, Anglo community. His younger brother, Harry, was not so fortunate. His life ended in 1962 at 17 when he blew himself up in the backseat of a '58 Chevy while preparing a bomb for the post office in Kinnaird, B.C.

With Dad in Vancouver
Those unfamiliar with the Freedomite Doukhobors are probably aghast and confused. It's a long story, recognizable to most multi-ethnic cultures where one world meets another and is forced to choose between assimilation or demise. For a short time in B.C., Harry and the Freedomites refused either and they fought what eventually became a losing battle. The RCMP records state Harry died while "on a terroristic mission" and I was determined to research the circumstances that led to such a verdict. Had the events of 9/11 not occurred, I never would have felt compelled to do so. It has now expanded into a novel I'm writing based on Harry's life. In retrospect, 9/11 made me see "better" and "further" into the truth that MLK once described as humanity's "inescapable network of mutuality."

Krestova Cemetery, last resting place of Harry Kootnikoff, 1944-1962. (photo: Doukhobor Genealogy Website)

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