IMR: Entries: 2001: September: 14 — Friday, September 14, 2001


I woke up in a U.S. city that was about as far away from New York as one could get. But I still cried over the loss of my American neighbors.

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As I write now, the estimated death toll hovers around 5,000. No doubt it will continue to climb, but already it's an unfathomably huge number. I still remember how our nation reeled with the loss or 165 civilians in Oklahoma City in 1995.

(The official Oklahoma City memorial site now reads: "Our materials stating that the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack on American soil will be revised.")

Very little relief can be drawn from the fact that the numbers thrown around within four hours of the World Trade Center towers' collapse were greater than 40,000. Or that the city had today verified its inventory of 11,000 body bags.

Mothers, fathers, children gone. The degrees of separation between those lost and the average citizen are few. I can't even imagine... All of my loved ones are safe, and I'm still crushed.

I learned something about myself these last couple of days. As have, no doubt, many others.

I live in the least "state" state in the union. I am neither white, nor a Christian. I am often an insufferable cynic and critic of our country. Just last week I got into a discussion about how I value, for whatever reason, my otherness.

Yes, I harp about freedoms and rights. I bury myself in the intricacies and machinations of a free media, of the ideals of tolerance and diversity. But I still do not think, until this week, I really felt like an American.

Oddly enough, this struck me as a result of the words and sentiments of people in foreign lands. Our colleagues at offices throughout Asia sending us — in Honolulu — words of condolence and support. Message boards where children and teachers in Europe and Australia say they share our grief and send their love. Suddenly, I realized, they were talking to us. To me.

Today, NPR broadcast a segnment from London, from St. Paul's Cathedral. The choir there performed the "Star Spangled Banner," penned 187 years ago almost to the day (September 13, 1814). And as if for the first time, I realized I was not only part of the American community, but of the global one.

I'm not naieve. I'm nowhere near a patriot. I agree that the U.S. needs to spend some time looking at why the terrorists, and why many people, feel this tragedy was inevitable. I take issue with Pres. Bush's characterization of the conflict as one of pure good against pure evil — it is nothing more, or less, than a fight between flawed, human combatants.

But, this week, I cannot smirk at our lawmakers breaking out into "God Bless America" on the Capitol steps. I cannot, yet, rail against the invocation of God and Jesus by government leaders. I did take the red-white-and-blue ribbon handed to me today in the elevator, and wore it with the rest of my coworkers.

A country divided is the objective of our attackers. I fear more, to be honest, the intolerance and ignorance of my fellow Americans than I do future strikes by foreign terrorists.

Today was declared a national day of prayer and remembrance. While the news cut away to live reports from "Ground Zero" in New York, and passed along other details of the investigation, it was also heartening to see observances across the country, time zone by time zone, from Maine to Seattle. And, albeit hours later, Hawaii followed suit.

My boss decreed that we would attend one of many events today, the noontime ceremony at the State Capitol. We walked there from the office, along the way getting swept up into a river of others heading there as well. As we crossed the grounds of `Iolani Palace, its flags at half mast, we could hear the bells at St. Andrew's Cathedral ringing.

The crowd was a wonderful mix of downtown business folks, citizens, students, nurses, kids, senior citizens, police officers and fire fighters, artists and politicians. I bumped into Lacene there, as well as Genevieve Ancog, whom I hadn't seen in years. (She was now working at the Hawaii Herald, but still not quite done with her Journalism degree.) Dozens more familiar faces, and hundreds of strangers. The noontime sun streamed into the open-air courtyard, but just as the event started, a stray formation of grey clouds passed above and fittingly dimmed the scene.

The remarks presented were a wonderful — but still admittedly incomplete — potpourri of Hawaii's many spiritual communities. Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and more. It was especially touching to hear people from so many different religions share much of the same messages. It wasn't about them, or about various paths, but of our common humanity.

Nainoa Thompson was emcee, and she was clearly affected by the proceedings. The warmest response, hands down, was for Hakim Ouansafi, president of our small Islamic Center. Kahu John Lake gave a stirring chant. And Cathy Foy gave her all in performing the national and state anthems, closing with "God Bless America." All our voices, and then the proud, healing cheers echoed throughout the courtyard. It was breathtaking.

The gaping wound in our nation's heart is still bleeding. The future is uncertain. I don't think people want to, or should, forget. But I'm grateful that we're already working to heal. The sun still shines. Babies are still born. Life goes on.

Katie is, perhaps, most responsible for my continued sanity. There is something sad, perhaps, in her naivete, but also something beautiful.

She still has a boisterous, full-bodied, spine tingling laugh. She still wants to end each day putting together some puzzles then reading a book or two. The footage of airports returning to life and airliners returning to the air (and the refreshing restraint of the media in repeating footage of the tragedy itself) has her cheering.

Tonight, as she prepared for her bath, she claimed to see a spider in the tub. (Jen saw one once, and now spider sightings are almost a ritual.) She came running out, naked, and said with her hand posed worrisomely at her chin, "There's a spider in the bathtub!"

"Oh, it's okay," Jen said, playing along.

"Will it bite me?" Katie asked.

"No, it won't bite you," Jen cooed. "It won't hurt you."

"Does the spider love me?" Katie asked.

I have to confess: I seriously rained on someone's parade today.

Well, not me directly, but I played a part. And I feel guilty, but I also agree: one particular show, here in Honolulu, should not go on.

For months, the state has been gearing up for its annual Aloha Festivals. This is a cross-cultural (but essentially tourist rallying) celebration involving block parties, parades, games, music, and more. It was to kick off today with a downtown Ho`olaulea, continue tomorrow with a parade through Waikiki, and involve dozens of events all week on all islands.

Tuesday's tragedy obviously derailed those plans.

Or so we thought. On Wednesday, the day after, there were people back on the sidewalks of downtown Honolulu selling admission badges. I pointed it out to Steve. "That's not right," he said.

On Thursday, someone in the media finally thought to ask about it, and the answer was, many events were canceled (like Carole Kai's signature "bed race"), but not all.

Steve, and then our boss, was flabbergasted. He started making phone calls. I hunted around online. Today's events were now canceled — Friday by then decreed a day for mourning, after all. Word was many folks were shaking their heads, but minimally, tomorrow's parade was still on.

This morning, our boss couldn't restrain himself. How could our local civic and business leaders think of leading a parade down Kalkaua Avenue when, even today, cities in other countries were holding official ceremonies and cancelling their own events out of respect? When Pearl Harbor was bombed, he asked, did people on the mainland go ahead with festivals? The optics — a clip of hula dancers, perhaps, contrasted with candlelight vigils in Oregon on CNN — were too much.

So we whipped into action. He asked Liz to call half a dozen local bigwigs. And I compiled the e-mail addresses of everyone on this year's Aloha Festival's board of directors (easily a who's who of Honolulu), allowing him to send out a strong note that said, basically, "You must be insane."

Of course, there were concerns raised all week. By today, most high schools had pulled out, as had a number of hotels. It wasn't going to be much of a parade. And word came back that the parade was being reconfigured. That it was going to be more patriotic, and more mournful, with flags and flowers, but no baton twirlers.

My boss was still uncomfortable, though — in part because of some of the excuses given by organizers when others had protested. Specifically, Gov. Cayetano's assertion (through dear Kim Murakawa) that "a great deal of planning and work went into the parade, and that makes it difficult to cancel an event that large."

Sure. And cancelling all NFL and MLB games across the entire country was a cinch.

The Star-Bulletin called for reaction. Its afternoon edition still reported on the front page that the parade was going to happen.

But right before I left the office, HPR reported it was called off. The Festivals' website confirmed the same. We felt, obviously, bad for working to stop what was obviously an important, traditional celebration. But it's just not the right time.

Very soon will be the time, I hope, for parades, for flags, for marching bands. Just not this week. Not while we're still in shock, still looking for survivors.

I, for one, will spend tomorrow quietly with my family.


The war "is nothing more, or less, than a fight between flawed, human combatants." Amen, Ryan. I do get a bit queasy when leaders fail to see it just as you have said. The good vs. evil, us vs. them approach prevents us from putting human faces on both ourselves and those we consider our "enemies." I'm still wrestling to find the best solution to this atrocity, but do want to express the feeling in my gut that inciting polarization is not the long-term way to go. It won't fundamentally change things for the better in our world.
ruth (September 15, 2001 2:03 PM)

I just want you all, those who read my dear friend's pages, those I know and do not, those who are Warriors and those who are not, to stop for just ONE SECOND and think. What if it had been your mother on one of those ill-fated flights? Your spouse? Your child? You? Many people went through the expected "minute of silence" on Friday and reflected, sure, but I doubt that most really considered the sheer, abject pain that comes with hearing the phone ring and learning that a loved one was lost in a few seconds of CNN video. Seriously, think about it. I know that my life would have been effectively over were Jaimee to die, or my parents, or Ryan... Over. In a heartbeat. Look around you. At the ones you love, that call you "daddy" or "sweetheart". Be glad they're not gone. And hold sorrow in your heart for those that can't.
Nathaniel Osborne/PLD (September 15, 2001 2:55 PM)

On Friday, a coworker of mine was outraged that the downtown Hoolaulea was canceled. I stared at her in disbelief -- not wanting to hear what she was saying. Meanwhile, I was (and consequently, still am) breaking down every five minutes over this horrible act. I couldn't comprehend how anyone could have attended the festival, or even the parade, knowing that so many lives were lost. I commend you, Ryan, and your whole office for putting a stop to the parade. Sure, I too feel bad for the Aloha Festivals Queen that she cannot again be elected, and that there wasn't a parade for her... but, come on. Thank you and thank you again. I would have hated to be part of a state that would celebrate with a festival so soon after so many had died.
jaQi (September 17, 2001 8:45 PM)

"I fear more, to be honest, the intolerance and ignorance of my fellow Americans than I do future strikes by foreign terrorists." Amen, brother. Couldn't agree any more than that.
Stella (September 19, 2001 1:16 PM)

E kala mai! Comments have been disabled due to overwhelming abuse by spammers. Please click through to any of the video hosting services linked above to leave a public response, or feel free to send an e-mail. Mahalo!

© 1997-2008 Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: [ PGP ] · Created: 13 November 1997 · Last Modified: 14 January 2008