My Turn: Living in times of not knowing

  • John Bos’ grandson, Trager, then 2, photographed by his grandmother on the roof of their SoHo building on Sept. 11, 2001. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 9/10/2021 8:26:45 AM

There have been several times in my life when I have lived through periods of not knowing. Not knowing what’s happening or what the outcome of not knowing will be. Everything I think of in those moments is a kind of fiction, a way I try to mitigate what feels unknowable in that moment.

We are today living in a time of profound uncertainty. Poisonous political polarity, the unconstitutional campaign to deny the right to vote, the rise of far-right extremism in America, the ongoing pandemic impacts and the increasing messages from Mother Earth that we are headed for an environmental abyss are all infecting the public health. We don’t know what will happen to us, to our country or to the world. These questions, at the moment, are unanswerable We are all living in the not knowing to one extent or another … unless you are in denial.

As human beings, we fear uncertainty more than anything else. We don’t know how to not know. We feel comfortable and safe only when we have the answers. Answers, even if they’re made up, allow us to avoid living in the not knowing.

For me, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2001 was my first major encounter with truly living in limbo, with not knowing what the hell was happening and how it would all end.

Just after his father and grandmother had taken 2-year-old Trager to the roof of the tallest building in SoHo to better see what was going on, they saw the second plane hit. His father, my son Chris, a videographer with the day off from shooting music videos, and my former wife, the artist Lindsay, and our first grandson watched the billowing clouds of smoke from the World Trade Center some 20 blocks southwest of their SoHo loft.

In that moment, with zero comprehension of why it was that not one, but two planes had crashed into the iconic twin towers dominating the lower Manhattan skyline. Chris and his mother did two things. Chris grabbed his video camera and made his way to the crash site to capture the fear and frenzy pulsating all around him in the ash-littered streets. Lindsay did what she always did; she took a photograph of what was before her, images that would make their way onto her canvases.

Two years old on 9/11, Trager had no way of knowing what he was looking at. Two of the four planes that terrorists had commandeered on a suicide mission to take down four of America’s iconic buildings, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the White House. They succeeded with the Twin Towers. Trager, now 22, knows the history of the events on that Saturday in 2001, but has no memory of that moment in time.

I later learned that we got off easy. The enormity of what could have happened had Osama bin Laden fully realized his plans was reported in the New York Times on June 16, 2014. “As horrendous as they were,” the Times said, “the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were only a small part of terrorist visions that foresaw using 10 hijacked airplanes to attack targets on both the East and West Coasts, including the United States Capitol and the White House according to the staff of the independent commission investigating 9/11.”

My most palpable, sometimes recurring memory from 9/11, was fear for my family. Not knowing where Chris and his wife Johanna, pregnant with their second son due in 2002, Trager and Lindsay were …and if they were OK. I cannot remember who called me in Shelburne Falls to say “turn on your TV.” But I did … and immediately called my sister, Winnie in Greenfield and told her to “turn on your TV; there’s been a plane crash in New York City.” Today she remembers thinking “Oh John is being so melodramatic!” But she turned on her TV and immediately tried to call her daughter Velvet who was living on the lower East Side in Manhattan.

Between watching those wrenching replays of the planes hitting the twin towers and calling Winnie and my brothers Pete in Boston and Chuck in Leesburg, Virginia, I kept calling and calling and calling Chris and Lindsay … to no avail. All the phone lines were down. When Chris was finally able to get through to me about five hours later, I wept. Each time the memories of 9/11 find their way into my consciousness, I feel a swell of gratefulness that I still have my family.

John Bos is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times and the editor of a new children’s book “After the Race.” His “Connecting the Dots” column appears every other Saturday in the Recorder. Comments and questions are invited at john01370@gmail.com.


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