Is it safe?

SN&R readers share stories about fear, change and the unknown

David Hatch

David Hatch

Photo by Larry Dalton

We are now several months into the changed America we became on September 11. It seems an appropriate time to hear directly from SN&R readers about how they’ve fared, what they fear … how they feel about the challenges we now face in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Fear about the future runs high in the hundreds of thoughtful online and hardcopy answers we received from readers. We were not surprised to have our respondents describe, in various detail, how things that used to be normal (flying cross-country, opening the mail, spotting a cropduster, crossing a bridge) are no longer normal. Many shared personal stories—a brother in a bomber over Afghanistan, a laid-off airline worker, a worried grandmother—that help illuminate these changing times. Thankfully, alarm about the present seemed to mix with a resolve (in answer to the question “do you have advice about how our community can get through these tough times?") that things can improve in the future if we only choose to make it so.

Finally, writer Fred Branfman offers his thesis that the events of September 11 have forced us as individuals—and as a society—to come face-to-face with our own mortality. He believes this fact is causing widespread irrational behavior, even at a level of national policy. Consider his perspective.

Thank you to the many who responded to our queries. The following is a sampling of your thoughts and answers.

Has life changed for you in some personal way since the terrorist attacks on September 11?

The only difference I’ve noticed is how much more disgusted I am at people that drive by yelling some slur or another based on my and my girlfriend’s appearance. It just seems so trivial that someone can be driven to the point of trying to point out another human being for being different, when there are people tossing anthrax in public places, and crashing planes into buildings. I’m not saying the frequency has increased, just my disgust and contempt for those occasions, and people.

David Hatch
customer service, Sacramento

The only real change for me is the nightmares. I keep having nightmares about the next atrocities. When I was a kid during the Cold War, I would get this knot in my stomach when they would do the monthly air raid siren tests where I grew up. Now I’m all but certain a major metropolitan area will be the site of a nuclear blast from a portable nuke made of stolen materials.
Walt Livingston
systems operator, Sacramento

I work at a hotel, so I can tell that life has changed for a lot of people. Business has fallen off about 40 percent. I personally have waves of panic attacks. I just want to know how you deal with people who have more to look forward to in death than life?

Judy Mann
night auditor, Auburn

Jeremy Newton

Photo by Larry Dalton

Yes, a certain amount of fear has been added. But with that has come the realization that we’ve just joined the world. Other countries have endured the scourge of terrorism for decades and they’re still standing.

Pat Ochler
retired, Sacramento

Yes. My brother is now a fighter pilot presently engaged in Afghanistan. It is very hard for me to separate my feelings about my brother with my feelings about this war. I love my brother, but I do not like him as a person. So, I try to keep quiet and watch my family worry. I’ve been confusing what I hear on the news with his words—“doing God’s work.” I think how zealous he sounds, and how familiar that is. This is a holy war. I am frazzled. I don’t know where to put my anger, my sadness. It’s hard to think logically. My brother thinks this is my problem—I think with my heart, not with my head. He was trained to put his emotions “in the box.” This is how he is good at his job. The man who has to pull the trigger can’t think like I do.

Name withheld on request

Yes. I was working for an airline and was laid off in late August. Even though the layoff was before the 9/11 tragedy, it has been difficult to secure new work. I had another airline job lined up for early September but it never came to pass because of the tragedy. My family and I are making ends meet with my unemployment and my wife’s salary but it has been tough sometimes. I have worked in the airline industry for 10 years but now I wonder if it will ever be possible to get back in.

Jeremy Newton
laid-off airline agent, Rancho Cordova

The terrorist attack was a wake-up call. The attack made me realize all too well that we on planet earth are on a time-table and that what has been predicted (Armageddon) since the beginning of our modern era will come to pass whether we are ready for it or not. It is only a question of how far into that process we already are. The economic downturn is having a mixed impact upon me and my thoughts of how best to take care of myself: one part of me says get out of this lousy system as soon as possible! And then, of course, I know that if I do God’s will, I will be provided for.

Rev. Ronna Griffen
minister, Sacramento

If I see one more gas-guzzling SUV with a tattered US flag on the antenna, I think I’ll need to vomit. In addition to collective amnesia, I wonder if my country understands the concept of irony. Where does the oil in those millions of gas tanks come from? How did decades of misguided foreign policy come home to roost with such deadly and avoidable consequences? For that matter, why do we suddenly refer to a military dictator in Pakistan as a “president”? At what point does “collateral damage” become blind slaughter?

Andy Markley
digital ditch digger, Sacramento

Yuvette McCray-Moon

Photo by Larry Dalton

Yes, my life has changed. You don’t know who to trust, especially in your own neighborhood. I found this out when I purchased an American flag to place outside my home. I only had it displayed for a few days. Unfortunately some people have no compassion for others, so they came into my yard and stole my flag. I was devastated and frightened. Nevertheless, I purchased and displayed another one.

Yuvette McCray-Moon
homemaker/student, Sacramento

I work(ed) for a big hotel in the renovation department for two and a half years, then I took a leave of absence to take care of my mother for a couple of months and I left the company on very good terms and was supposed to go back with them soon. However, since the attack, hotel business is down 55 percent and the company put a freeze on all hiring. So now I’m on unemployment. (It sucks.)

Name withheld on request

As a board member of a fishery conservation organization and community activist, I was horrified when I got word from a good friend that Alan Beaven, one of the state’s foremost environmental lawyers and an expert in the Clean Water Act, had died as one of the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11. California’s fish and wildlife lost one of their best friends when Beaven perished.

Daniel Bacher
editor/journalist, Sacramento

What do you think about the (local and national) media’s coverage of recent events?

As a former member of the military, and a veteran of the Gulf War, I know we are not hearing everything. The local and national media want big stories, and are trying to outdo one another. With the situational patriotism happening right now, no one really wants to come across as anti-government for fear of seeming anti-American. I generally read between the lines and look to alternative news magazines, Web sites and radio.

Steve Cary
staffing specialist, Sacramento

The mass media are almost 100 percent in lockstep with the [Bush] administration. We are not, by a long shot, hearing the truth about the war. For this, one has to go to the Internet and foreign press.
L. Lefson
retired, Sacramento

Too much information! Every day I learn more of our weaknesses (which airports still don’t have adequate security), another good way to attack us (where the water and power systems are vulnerable), one more good way to panic us (send in the smallpox). Of course, we have a “need to know” with some things, but could the media exercise some common sense? And if nothing else, they must at least stop printing and broadcasting propaganda provided by these remorseless idiots.

Steve Cary

Photo by Larry Dalton

Walt Bittle
retired, Citrus Heights

We’ll eventually learn the truth 10 years after the fact.

Martha Perez
state worker, Sacramento

Americans never get the truth from popular media. The only way to get a true perspective and to balance out the propaganda is to also check out online, foreign and independent newspapers and other alternative viewpoint Web sites.

John W.
attorney, Natomas

I think they’re doing a reasonably good job of covering it all, but I also believe that the media is and may always be strongly politically influenced. This is a scary thought, given the recent history of our country and the tendency of the masses to be easily led. Remember Wag The Dog? I’m not saying that’s what’s going on, but I think small variations are always going on.

Nathanael Stone
cashier, Sacramento

I am a leftist who has always been leery of conspiracy theories. Talk about grassy knolls and how many bullets in Kennedy’s autopsy makes my eyes roll. But now, mainstream media makes me feel really uneasy. All the stories are the same; the Bee and the Chronicle run near-identical editorials on the same days; and even the “exclusive” video feeds on TV are much the same. The administration has said, flat out, that it will restrict press releases, and even feed us disinformation “in the national interest.” Brrrrrr! Fortunately, we have KPFA and KVMR radio, Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now—in Exile,” the Web, and … oh yeah, SN&R.

John Kwasnik

Benjamin Tyree

Photo by Larry Dalton

Have the events of the last months made you feel differently about the future, your life’s choices?

I use rubber gloves and a mask to open mail at work and at home. This was my choice. I don’t allow my daughter to open mail anymore.

Martha Perez
state employee, Sacramento

Yes, the events of the past month have caused me to rethink my priorities for the future. I now really appreciate my family, my friends and loved ones and my place as an African-American in America.

Betty Hernandez
retired, Sacramento

My daughter called me to tell me she’s expecting my third grandchild. I wonder what they will endure. … I fear for the children.

Judy Mann
night auditor, Sacramento

My job is in unarmed security and I’m taking it more seriously than I had previously. And in the past I had been serious enough. I’d even gone as far as to make sure nobody was burglarizing a nearby building that wasn’t part of the patrolling property (which is, in book terms, a no-no). I write fanfiction and create Web pages as a hobby. Now I’m unsure of how creative I’ll be whenever I plan to do future works.

Benjamin Tyree III
security officer, Sacramento

Yes, I wish I wouldn’t have to worry so much about my infant’s safety. Also, I now pick up my mail with gloves on and spray it with disinfectant.

D. Smithe
artist/mom, Sacramento

Eleanor Kennedy

Photo by Larry Dalton

Have you attended any community events on the theme of what has unfolded since the events of September 11?

Yes. I have gone to see art and participated in peace rallies and made signs. I have written letters to our leaders and handed out fliers to fellow citizens. I feel you have to work for peace if you believe in it. I protested the father and now I will protest the son. He is a man full of frailties, like anyone, so I pray for all the leaders whose decisions will affect the globe.

Eleanor Kennedy
homemaker, Sacramento

I went to church for the first time in ages. I was in the Marines and have a deep love for my country but my government terrifies me. I thought I was willing to die to defend what I believe in, but now I am struggling to try and truly define what that means today. I signed up for hospice training and care.

Eric Tritle
Rancho Cordova

My husband and I left for our honeymoon by rent-a-car on the morning of September 11. We drove up the Oregon coast to Seattle. In West Seattle at the mini Statue of Liberty, there was a vigil that grew tremendous in size in two days. All views were displayed. It was a beautiful, yet surreal, honeymoon. Everyone was still in shock; there wasn’t a war/peace debate forming yet. It was gentle.

Samantha Gorsky
cook/musician, Nevada City

The Sunday after September 11, I attended a church service where at the end of the service, the minister asked the children’s Sunday school group to come in (they always bring in little projects they have been working on as the adults sing “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine”). They brought in a “hands around the globe” poster and gave it to a Middle Eastern guy in the congregation. I was very moved by that. I hadn’t attended that church in about seven years. I have been going just about every Sunday since that; it has really helped a lot.

K. DeVries
legal secretary, Fair Oaks

Several peace rallies and education forums. I participate in my meeting services every Sunday. I am a Quaker and being actively involved in peacemaking activities is part of my belief system.

Genevieve Fleet
teacher, Sacramento

Sharon McFarland

Photo by Larry Dalton

Do you have advice to share (based on past experiences or religious/philosophical beliefs) about how people in our community can best get through these times?

Keep focused on what’s important. Watch yourself in daily activities. Help others in these confusing times.

Tracy Booker
state worker, Sacramento

We are all the same on a cellular level. There exists fanaticism in all of us; the religious or political platform we use to voice it is irrelevant. It’s hard to say what any of us would do if we had to live the lives of these blighted people in Afghanistan. It’s easy to call them “evil,” far more challenging to reflect and find some human understanding of the circumstances that helped shape their violence. We need to use this opportunity to learn about what creates this in people, what triggers the acting-out. Begin by maintaining the sense of community this crisis has brought out in all of us. We can learn valuable lessons about our collective spiritual lacking by looking objectively at what we are hated for.

Joyce Inderkum
retailer, Sacramento

Since this disaster, people feel we are closer as a nation, yet people live in fear to voice opinions. Prejudice has grown to the point that anyone who disagrees with our government is now un-American. But disagreeing with our government is part of being American.

E. Evans
musician, Sacramento

I was in Tehran, Iran, when the hostages were taken over 20 years ago. It was a frightening time to be an American in a foreign country. The Iranian women were wonderful and helped me escape injury by putting me under the seat of a bus and covering me with blankets. That experience helped me understand that no matter how terrible events may seem, there is also someone that feels love enough to help those in need, just like with the September 11 incidents. Remember to feel love instead of hate, to allow people to have their beliefs even if they don’t agree with yours. Smile every chance you get, take time to help someone, and if we all do that, slowly we change the world.

Sharon McFarland
employment trainer, Roseville

Sitting on my deck, I see a plane, and I shudder. I feel more than an occasional fall chill. The morning paper is waiting to be read, but I am already overwhelmed with Osama bin Laden, missiles and the latest case of anthrax. I want to find something else to do. Hearing a slight rustle, I look up and see a squirrel. Leaning over the deck, I begin following his movements. He deftly climbs very high. Up and down he goes, tree to tree, and each time he goes up, he carefully balances an acorn in his mouth. He doesn’t look at me, or planes flying overhead. We can learn a lot from squirrels.

Bobbie Jorgensen
city college lecturer, Sacramento

Working for peace, the environment and social justice is the best way to fight terrorism. Go to a peace vigil, an education forum about the Middle East and Central Asia or compose a song or poem or get on a local talk radio program to express your views. Also, call your senators and Congress members and ask them to stop “anti-terrorist legislation” designed to thwart our civil liberties, right in its tracks.

Daniel Bacher
editor/journalist, Sacramento

I decided that terrorism in America is just one more thing to add to the list of disasters that could zap us at any moment, e.g. earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, car wrecks, asteroids, lightning, atom bombs, nuclear power plants, disease, gun-toting nut cases, and so forth. Thus, I choose to live each moment grateful for the love, peace and beauty that I now have and, if I get “zapped,” at least I will have lived a happy life until that point.

Joyce Middlebrook
retired, Sacramento

The first thought that I had was, “What would Jesus (or any other great leader of non-violence) have me do?” The answer to any conflict resolution is negotiation, negotiation, negotiation. Violence is never a choice.

Peggy Bean
administrative supervisor, Sacramento