9/11, 10/5

Yesterday’s “06880” looked back on September 11, 2001 from the perspective of 3 days later.  

Three weeks after that horrific day —  on October 5, 2011 — my “Woog’s World” column in the Westport News looked back on the lessons of that day, and the ways we’d changed.

It seems incredible, even obscene, that something good could rise out of last month’s terrorist attacks.

But this much seems true:  Americans have come together in ways impossible to imagine in the days before September 11.

The signs are everywhere — flags flap from the antennas of Porsches and pickups alike; George W. Bush’s approval ratings are higher than any politician’s except Rudy Giuliani’s, and the hottest Halloween costumes this year honor our nation’s new heroes, firefighters and police and EMTs — but there has been a subtler shift as well.

Across America, cities and suburbs that less than 4 weeks ago were simply places to live, are now communities.

The changes are obvious in New York City, of course, where subway riders now solicitously usher others onto trains, give up seats and even engage in conversations with strangers; in stores, where sales clerks ask customers if they can be of help, then actually try to do exactly that, and in business offices, where cutthroat competitors have gone out of their way to help rival companies and colleagues in need.

But the changes are obvious in Westport too, and in some ways they are as remarkable as those in the big city 50 miles west.

There was always an excuse for New Yorkers’ rudeness, pushiness and isolation:  In a city so vast and dense you could not interact with everyone, so why bother making any human contact at all?

Westporters’ incivility, by contrast, was more willful, less understandable.  We chose to live in a supposedly friendly town, most of us, but we often acted in the most unfriendly ways.

Don’t get me wrong; Westport has always been a wonderful place to live.  We have nodded to our neighbors, socialized with friends, participated in civic affairs and enjoyed the good life this town offers in such abundance.

But we have tended to do so on our own terms, whenever and wherever we wanted to.  And if we did not care to be particularly neighborly, no one could make us.

After September 11, all that is different.

I notice the changes everywhere.  I see it in the way Westporters greet the FedEx and UPS delivery persons, the men and women so important to our business lives.  A month ago we waited for them with stopwatches; every moment they were late was a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Now we are grateful the overnight delivery arrives overnight, whenever it comes.  We understand that planes can be grounded, for good reason.  We know too that from time to time the people sending us crucial documents and packages must face even more crucial events in their lives that prevent them from getting those items out on time.

I see it at Staples football games, home and away.  Crowds seem larger than usual; in addition to students and parents, the stands are filled with random townspeople.  People seem to be enjoying the fall air, watching a bunch of kids trying their best, and gathering together with other human beings in a united group.

I see it in the offers being made, neighbor to neighbor, to look out for one another.  Parents appear willing, even eager, to pick up other parents’ children from after-school activities, dance lessons and soccer practice.

They check on elderly or infirm neighbors.  They stop one another on walks down the road, and ask how families are doing.

For a long time we believed everyone’s life was his own.  That remains true, but we now also know that all those lives are precious — and each of us has an obligation to support and sustain those other lives.

I see it in the checkout lines at the supermarket.  Not long ago the woman scanning the tomatoes, taco shells and toothpaste was faceless, anonymous and — if she had to call the manager for help — incompetent.

Today we look into her tired eyes and recognize she is just a hard-working woman trying to do her job.  We understand with sudden clarity that the reason she does not talk to us is because she cannot speak English.  We wonder, for the first time, if she has a family somewhere far from Westport, and if she sends them money whenever she can.

I see it in the Westport Fire Department’s annual open house.  Usually a low-key affair, with a few dads toting young children for a look at the big red engines, last weekend’s event was SRO.

Residents of all ages spent more time staring at the firefighters than at their trucks.  They engaged the firefighters in conversation, asking about their jobs, their lives, even intensely personal subjects like the loss of their New York City colleagues.  And the Westport men, women and children asking those questions listened closely to the responses.

It would be incredible, even obscene, to pretend that the changes we have seen over the past 3 1/2 weeks are worth the losses our nation has suffered.  No one would wish last month’s terrorist attack on our worst enemy.  But at the same time, it would be silly to ignore those changes, or pretend they are not welcome and good.

Today, as we move into the next phase of our post-terror attack world, we face tremendous challenges.  Turning Westport’s temporary changes into permanent ones my seem a tangential goal.

But if, in the difficult days ahead, we are to be a true community — and not just a town — it is certainly worth a try.

30 responses to “9/11, 10/5

  1. But, emotions aside, have we learned anything?

  2. Too bad it didn’t last.

  3. It feels right to be compassionate, caring neighbors. I am glad that in times of need and disaster, I know that my fellow Westporters can be counted on to help with a glad heart. My wish is that Westporters would not forget how good it feels to be kind and patient with others, to show respect and common courtesy to everyone. It is a choice we make everyday that effects us and everyone we touch.

  4. an interested reader

    Great post but what happened?

  5. I think we all know what happened to change it, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to cast a pall on this column by bringing it up.

    For now, let’s enjoy another moment of unity in remembrance.

  6. Unity? Are you serious?

  7. I am tired of self boosterism, nationallly or personally. Humility and gratitude, of course need to match a version of reality which comports to the truth and heart wrenching personal stories need to be applied to conscience which needs to comport with consciousness of the truth, of which in this case there are two versions, one, the suppressed one, is in my opinion, the more credible, though the more unthinkable. But if we don’t think, we surely are defeated no matter the heroism of martyrs.

  8. The Dude Abides

    Or not caring at all which RFK deemed the greatest sin.

  9. I may have been too cryptic, see above..

    Perhaps I should have pointed my comment to the fact that too many of our political office holders, if they learned anything ten years ago, have forgotten what is worthy behavior. The Tea Party has enshined rudeness above national decency.

  10. The Dude Abides

    Pretty cheap shot at the Tea Party and I am not a fan. All of our Washington elite are way out of step with America. Prime time for a 3rd party to step up.

  11. You really think it took 9/11 for Westporters to see others – no matter what their occupation – as people? I don’t.

    I’ve known Westport – as a guest – since the mid-1970’s. The same warmth that I always felt in NYC and Long Island, I always also easily found in Westport. That warmth was always attributed to the impression that the Westporters who made up the foundation of Westport that they knew and were proud of the fact that very few if any had arrived on the Mayflower or held blue-blood lineage, thus leveling the social playing field forcing each to weigh the others based on their individual organic merits/deficiencies. Class consciousness in The Westport that I’ve known has always been frowned on, and aggressively discouraged. Hopefully, That Westport quality continues to be valued.

    • Considering the fact that Professor Woog was born and bred here, I think he has a pretty good handle on what this town is all about. We really don’t need a “guest” guestioning his writings. Regardless, you come off as an anti-snob snob.

      • Dan would be the first one to say that his views do not exclude other points of view – I have many friends who do not share my perspective on everything (thank God). And, for the record, in the Westport I grew up in we didn’t spend any time comparing sizes of homes or whose dad did what – and certainly didn’t even know who were “blue bloods” and who were “new money” – so I tend to agree with the view expressed by anon above.

        • The Dude Abides

          JW: B.S. “Keeping up with the Jones” has been alive and well for over 50 years in Westport as well as most of Fairfield County. In the 50’s, we used to sit on the YMCA steps after Friday nite dances and evaluate who had a new car or not. And that was us kids. There is nothing wrong with it but it is reality. To confuse it with this communality theme of Anon is, once again, being an anti-snob snob. If Anon found “friendliness” in NYC/Long Island, he/she should cut back on their Xanax prescription.

          • Dude – fair enough, and I am confident you are accurately relating your experience; mine and that of my group of friends – most of whom Dan knows – was simply different, but no less accurately related (I will admit to being impressed with “cool cars” but that might just be universal among young boys).

    • As a newcomer who moved to town in 1983, single and not knowing anyone, I felt welcome and found it easy to become part of the community and make friends, of all backgrounds. It enriched my life considerably. The people then could not have been friendlier. Having grown up on Long Island, and working in NYC at the time, I found it a much warmer place than either one.

      Unfortunately, I find that sadly lacking today. Many people are rude and thoughtless. Their children are little savages. They run rampant through supermarkets and restaurants, and the parents refuse to discipline them.

      The community that Dan wrote about on 10/5/01 has vanished.

      • Lisa Marie Alter

        Bobbie, I might agree with you on that…and then just as soon, disagree. I arrived here 20 years after you (’03) and still am delighted — more often than disappointed — by the friendliness, kindness and caring demonstrated by my fellow Westporters. I also try at all costs to avoid those hotbeds of incivility (as I perceive them): Starbucks, the Balducci’s parking lot, and the Post Road at rush hours.

        Finally, my continued – and time-tested – belief in karma (“what comes around goes around”) gives me a tremendous sense of peace.

  12. Carl Addison Swanson

    Pretty good bunch remains here, Bobby. Sit in on Thanksgiving dinner at the church or stop by the homeless shelter or see the compassion of the librarians with their agenda or get a pick up game at Longshore. The heart and soul of Westport rings true. That has not changed in 50+ years. The housing boom brought many just passing through on their way to capital gain haven but many are gone, more to follow. Keep the faith.

  13. I wish I could agree that all is sweetness and light in post-9/11 Westport. Unfortunately….Our teenage daughter volunteered to help at the triathlon — you know where all these feelin good athletes gather to chill in a beautiful setting after a week of work in a beautiful setting, for a good cause on a day of remembrance — on 9/11 down at Compo. She and two of her fellow volunteers reported that, at one point a female runner (they think she was 62 because they understood that their age rankings were on their race placards) asked them if she could run on the concrete. They said they did not know. (Hadn’t been covered in their orientation.”
    The woman said: “F***k you! You stupid volunteers are worthless!” and took off.
    Nice. Really nice.

    • You don’t have to be a Westport resident to compete in the triathalon; in fact I understand that many, if not most, are not Westport rsidents. Which doesn’t excuse the behavior in the least, but it may not have been one of our own.

    • Where’s a camera phone when you need one?

    • The Dude Abides

      Having competed in some 21 triathlons, it can become pretty intense and the “A-types” come out in droves. Next time, tell anybody who asks: “Sure, you can run on the concrete. Take a left at hell.”

  14. Yikes. I certainly wasn’t ‘questioning’ Dan Woog with the tone bRA endowed my entry with.

  15. Your “endowment” is now questioned, without the tone. bRA was the triathlete mentioned above. She has a Christmas charity: “No shit for toys.”

  16. During one of Gordon Joseloff’s “code red” telephone announcements the day after Hurricane Irene he said something to the fact, “It’s Sunday and people are home, please check on your neighbors.” I, for one, have always checked on my neighbors (and then some) regardless, but it’s sad that we had to be reminded to do that. Very Sad.

  17. Arthur B. Benjamin

    I am not sure if it is sad but it is reality. I applaud Joseloff for reminding us of such. The constant mobility of this country has caused much of the distance between neighbors. We have a Block Party each year but rarely see our neighbors otherwise except to wave hello. People are too busy and enraptured in their own survival to be neighborly. Sign of the times and more so, the future.