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When everybody hurts...

Uphill, Both Ways, Barefoot...

It was a bright autumn morning, earlier than I would normally get up on a day I didn't have to work.

I wasn't working because just the week before, after returning from a holiday, I had been ceremoniously stripped of my rank and relieved of my post, due to a shakeup of executive management.  (That was a trend in the industry at the time, or for all I know still is, I couldn't say... I walked away from that trade after one too many rides on that particular roller coaster.) 

I'd spent the last three business days job hunting.  I'd spent the day before responding to the want ads from the local Sunday paper.  Exhausting those, I'd decided to have a look at what might be posted in the weekday classifieds, theorizing those companies would likely be more ready to hire.  (This was before I owned a personal computer, much less a laptop, so, at the time, I was still tuned into a world that included print.)  I checked a handful of pockets and drawers, but, not finding any change for the corner rack, I determined to pop down to the local market and pick up a paper, a coffee, and a danish for a good start to my day.

I drove the 10 or so blocks with the radio on, lost in my own thoughts.

At the service counter, I waited in line behind an elderly gentleman, who was engrossed in a conversation with the store clerk about his recollections of
Pearl Harbor.  He was 19, it was the day before his birthday, he was just getting up for morning chores when he heard the news, yadda, yadda...


Do you ever have conversations in your head?  You know, those snappy retorts you think of coming back with after the fact, or the hypothetical two cents thrown into a given situation you're otherwise not part of... things you don't actually say out loud, but imagine to yourself what it would be like if you did?  I do that all the time, usually without change in my outward demeanor... it's my own form of brain-to-mouth filter... keeps me from spewing verbal toxic waste at innocent (and not-so-innocent) bystanders when I'm just feeling a bit snarky without (and sometimes with!) justifiable cause, because then I can convince myself I've sort-of got it out-of-my-system.  (Not unlike the internal segues on an episode of
Scrubs.)  The harangue I telepathically drooled on the octogenarian in front of me went something like this:


Yeah, Gramps, we hear you.  We know how it starts... we know you tell us, us kids today have it so easy... we know how you used to do the same work as a crew of farmhands before the sun came up, with only a glass of milk and a couple of crackers for breakfast, then walked a dozen miles to school, uphill, both ways, barefoot, in the snow, with no coat and fourteen 8-pound schoolbooks slung over your shoulder in a burlap napsack, through wolf-infested woods, with only a candle to light your way, and only a slingshot to defend yourself with... yeah, we've heard
all the stories...

We know you didn't communicate with each other back-in-the-day the way that we do now.  We know when you had an issue, you didn't spill your guts to the neighbor's wife or the town doctor... we know you sucked it up like a man and got on with your life, cause that's what men are supposed to do.  And, even during The Great War, we know you didn't bring
home to your families your mental anguish and emotional damage over the ignominious nightmare you'd witnessed.  You took that 3-month long boat ride home from the other side of the world and you poured out your soul to your brothers-in-arms, and when it was over, you tucked it away and you were done with it.  And now that the movie
Saving Private Ryan, with its dynamic drama, authentic acting, and fantastic effects has made you feel like you were right in the middle of that abhorrent cesspool all over again, you're dredging up all those old war wounds that never really healed quite properly.

So, since you never learned to make use of the resources at your disposal in this newfangled modern world we live in today to address your personal traumas, allow me to help out, Pops, and say Thank you.  Thank you for stepping up to the call to come to the aid of our country, and indeed, the world, to deliver us from tyranny and oppression.  Thank you for risking life, limb, and permanent psychological suffering for the good of your fellow man.  Thank you for coming home and taking care of yourself and your family, without depending on your fellow taxpayers to support you.  But mostly, Father Johnny-Come-Marching-Home, Thank you for realizing that we have recognized your contribution to our wellbeing and livelihood more than two quarter-centuries ago, and despite whatever oversight we may have perpetuated in the past, we have done our part to show our appreciation, and we would now like to get on with the rest of OUR lives.


But of course, I didn't actually SAY anything like that, or at least, not out loud, anyway.  In fact, I didn't say anything at all.  I knew he was probably just a lonely old man, with very little money, and probably few surviving friends or family, whose daily simple pleasures came in the form of a shuffle to the neighborhood corner store, and a chat with the pretty young counterlady, or anyone who would talk to him.  How could I do anything to discourage or trifle with that?  I took my purchase, and followed him out, with a wink and a smile that made him blush and glance away quickly, as I hurried on to my car.

On the way back home, the song over the radio finished up, and the DJ came on with morning news.  I normally tune them out, and was reaching to change the station, but this time the announcement was a bit more compelling. 


Wait, what did he just say?  He must have read it wrong, or their press connection must be misfeeding… I mean, really, a plane couldn’t bring DOWN the World Trade Center… it’s way too sturdy to COLLAPSE…


I raced up the steps to my floor and burst into the living room, tossing my keys onto the couch, and grabbed the remote.  The moment CNN came up, the first image on my screen was the live feed as the second tower receded thunderously back into the earth in a cloud of black smoke.  As I watched, my fresh bag of goods fell to the floor, as did my knees, descending in one motion along with the corporate structural juggernaut.


I could go on about the emotional impact of those few moments, the next few days, and even months, but, this story is not about our nation’s tragedy of that day.

I do believe thoughts are things.  I do believe they carry a certain power by perpetuating the energy we give them into our surrounding environment.  I do believe we have a responsibility to ourselves to make certain our conscious musings contribute to our subconscious manifestations in such a way that brings desirable elements into our lives, so that we don’t #@$% things up in ways we didn’t intend.


I considered the impact of the thoughts I’d had about the old man in the store, who’d obviously known more of what had been going on in the world in the last hour that morning than I had, I realized then. 

When I was eventually in a somewhat collected state, my thoughts turned back to another imaginary conversation with him:


I’m sorry Grandfather.  I’m sorry I disrespected you by misinterpreting your response to this atrocity and jumping to inappropriate conclusions.  I’m sorry I didn’t give you the attention you deserve.  You were right.  You HAVE been uphill, both ways, barefoot, in the muck, and the slime, and the filth of humanity, and I am sorry you’ve had to experience this shock and rage at man’s injustice to man twice in your lifetime.  Thank you, Grandfather, for all you’ve done for us.  Thank you, for still being here, a source of inspiration to us now, as we set out upon the path you have already tread.  Thank you, for being a shining example, a beacon of hope, Grandfather, as a window into the past to remind us that life will go on, that the sun will still rise, that we will all be okay.  Please, Grandfather, show us the way… help us get through this.  Help us learn to heal.

LJ Idol | Season 6 • Week 2 - Topic: UP HILL BOTH WAYS, BAREFOOT
This post has been brought to you through an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on...

                                                                                                                                       ...and thanks for stopping by.


( 48 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 30th, 2009 05:24 am (UTC)
I enjoyed this. I like that you learned from the events that happened and could find a way to relate it back to the old man. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the first part of the news and will never forget watching it all unfold on the tv. Just like many others, I will never forget. I will probably be the old woman in the grocery store telling my story to some youngster someday :)
Oct. 30th, 2009 06:38 am (UTC)
Let's hope there isn't another event to prompt the discussion.
(no subject) - pixiebelle - Oct. 30th, 2009 06:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 30th, 2009 05:41 am (UTC)

I know both of these sentiments a little better then I would like.
Oct. 30th, 2009 06:40 am (UTC)
Better to know them, in order to address them, then blindly going through life pretending you can't be affected by/effect others by them.
Oct. 30th, 2009 08:19 am (UTC)
This was a really good take on the subject, I was prepared to skim when I was sucked in, ground to a halt, and deposited right at the unexpected ending. Good work since I haven't had my morning coffee yet!
Oct. 30th, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I was really afraid this would be tldr, but, I figured the story had to be told the way it unfolded... otherwise it would just be cheesy.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 30th, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Some parts of it were tough... there's a lot of emotion there, even after all these years. But I feel good about how it turned out. I hope everyone else gets it.
Oct. 30th, 2009 06:50 pm (UTC)
This is brilliant, heartbreaking, and more than anything else, human. Extremely well done.
Oct. 30th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you! If you felt the heartbreak, then, I think it's safe to say you "got it." I genuinely appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Oct. 30th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
Wow! Very well done!
Oct. 30th, 2009 07:39 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thank you.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 31st, 2009 04:33 am (UTC)
I'm glad it had an impact.
Oct. 31st, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
Wow yeah, won't we all be the generation that has that collective memory?
Oct. 31st, 2009 03:13 am (UTC)
Sad to say, yes, it's true. There have been a number of different everyone "remembers where they were when" in my lifetime, including the shooting of JFK, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, (I'm ashamed to include) the reading of the OJ verdict, etc., etc., but, this is by far the most impacting.
Oct. 31st, 2009 04:03 am (UTC)
This was beautiful and I loved the thought process you wrote as to what you would have said only in your mind.
Oct. 31st, 2009 04:31 am (UTC)
Thank you. How grateful I was to have kept it shut that day.
Oct. 31st, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Powerful entry...great ending. Well done.
Nov. 1st, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you. The ending happened just as i wrote it. That whole experience was an event in my life that I have played out repeatedly in my head since... I have told the story many times. This is the first time I've committed it to writing. I'm happy it's being well received.
Oct. 31st, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
That was great! loved your snarky thoughts and though I knew something was going to cause you to regret them, the change was very powerful.
Nov. 1st, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you! The crazy thing, I'm generally a fairly snarky person. I'd almost be inclined to say I'm more snark than anything else, but, I have trained the snark to be kept in check until called upon... usually I have to be pushed to let it fly on its own... like when you've rubbed a cat the wrong way for so long that eventually it swipes. I mean, if you had the flattened ears, the twitching tail, and the low-deep-throated growl as warnings signals, really, you've only yourself to blame for getting scratched. That's pretty much me... it's something of a rarity that I actually snark out loud, but, if I do, dammit, watch out!
Oct. 31st, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
Wow. This is really strong. What a really nice juxtaposition of Pearl Harbor and 9/11... and I really like the way you weaved your preconceived notions and assumptions into the story.

Really, really well done.
Nov. 1st, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Yep, my preconceived notions and assumptions are easy to write about, because I'm full of them. I'm also good at reevaluating each situation individually and adjusting those based on the more appropriate circumstances as they play out, and, usually BEFORE any major damage has been done, thankfully. Which is made easier by not speaking out loud every thought that pops into my head, of course!
Oct. 31st, 2009 06:14 pm (UTC)
I can't say that I *enjoyed* this entry, so to speak, since I am still very, very triggery about 9/11.

But it was very well written.
Nov. 1st, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
It would be hard to avoid addressing it by and pretend it didn't happen, or just trying not to be exposed to any mention of it... it's part of our lives, now, and will be until we're the age of the old man, just as Pearl Harbor still impacts him. But, I get what you're saying... I don't want to sit down and have a rap session about it anytime soon, either. Too emotionally charged to be micro-analyzed like it was the assassination of JFK, or something. I did try to be sensitive, though, and not hit it too hard, since that wasn't the point, but it had to be included or the story wouldn't have played out the same way. I hope I gave it light, but not delicate touch.
Oct. 31st, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
I loved the end. A lot of people are unable to admit to their own mistakes and failures in understanding--but you constantly look to re-evaluate your vision of the world around you and find places for improvement.
Nov. 1st, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
Wow... that's certainly very true of me, but I am amazed and impressed that you've picked it up from my writing. I'll glad it shows. Thank you very much. I never want to get to a place in my life where I say, "This is it. This is much growing as I can do, there's no more room for improvement, I'm as good as I'm going to get... I'm perfect." Because, I believe there's no such thing as sitting still... if you're not moving forward, you're drifting. I believe the purpose of life is the experience, and I want to make mine the best it can be. Thanks for noticing, and following along.
Oct. 31st, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
I still remember where I was when the Challenger exploded. Cafeteria, my college, sitting with Jon from Texas talking about 80's synth pop and the Beatles.

For a long time, I thought that was "my generations' Pearl Harbor" or "JFK," but the truth was, that event, while traumatic and tragic, didn't have the kind of lasting social impact that 9/11 had. I agree that I didn't really understand the impact or Pearl Harbor (or JFK's assassination) in the least until after 9/11.

I was asleep on the morning of the attack. My time zone is pretty far removed from New York's. When it happened, a friend of ours called and said "they flew planes into the World Trade Center." The call had woken me up and I had no idea what she meant. I thought she was drunk dialing us or something, but I put on the TV, by which time the towers had already collapsed and the cable news networks had gone into "all footage of the attacks all time time" mode.

I went to teach anyways, though all of my classes were replaced with talking to students about the attack. I teach Freshmen and Sophomores, usually a pretty rowdy bunch, but this event had left 95% of them sober and frightened - behaving more like the kids they were than the adults they pretended to be. I confess, this group had been trouble before 9/11, but starting on that day, they really were a little more mature than they had been the day before. Its remarkable how quickly tragedy can age you.
Nov. 1st, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
Indeed. I'm really glad you were there to offer some stability to those children, just trying to make sense of it all. I know they needed that. Thank you, sincerely.
(no subject) - joeymichaels - Nov. 1st, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
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