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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
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4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
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2006-05-05 22:10
by Jon Weisman

[I saw United 93 today. If you prefer to skip the following, I understand.]

I can't always think of 9/11 without going back a couple days prior. My wife and I had taken a trip to Hearst Castle and Cambria for the weekend. During the trip, my wife started to feel ill, which was a concern because we were about six weeks pregnant with our first child at the time.

Sunday, September 9, we drove home. As we got out of the car inside the parking garage of the building we lived in, we felt a tremendous shake. There was an earthquake. Not particularly scary, especially for this here native, but it was weird to have it happen the moment we ended our multi-hour drive.

Two days later, I was up getting ready to leave for work - my job back then started at 6:45 a.m. - and I passively turned on CNN, as was my custom. I saw an image of the World Trade Center, and seconds later, registered that there was smoke, and seconds later, began to hear announcers trying to make sense of it.

The immediate aftermath obliterated anything that we felt or experienced in the days prior. We were fixated on the television and the horror. That night, we learned that my wife's cousin - whom she was not particularly close to, and whom I never met, was missing. He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the WTC, and he was gone. It gave me a connection to the tragedy - a somewhat phony one, to be honest, since I never knew him - but it personalized the tragedy for us in the sense that it give us a specific family's grief to think about as the punishingly grim days passed.

And then, a few days later, it was our turn. My wife again felt something was wrong. We went to the doctor for an ultrasound, and found that the baby had not been growing the way it should have been. We then had to endure the slowest, most personally painful wait of our lives. A miscarriage - you probably don't know this until you've been a party to one - doesn't happen in a moment. It was days of my wife living with death inside her, days of living with death surrounding us. It is not the loss of a parent or a sibling or a child that has already been born. But it is very bad. You can't escape the nightmare, you just have to wait it out.

Slowly, time passed. Our baby was gone. Planes began taking off again. Amid the memorials, people began getting on with their lives. And 4 1/2 years have passed. We have been blessed with two healthy children, and we have skirted the perils of life in the 21st century, from plane flights to crossing the street with a toddler by my side. Last weekend, my 21-month-old son pushed open our front gate, and I spent the better part of the evening thinking about what might have happened if for some reason I had been distracted.

Around the same time, when I read the reviews for United 93 saying how powerful the film was, I knew I had to see it. My wife, who would sooner stick a fork in her eye than go anywhere near that movie - she says she still relives the terror too often in her own mind - asked me why, and I couldn't tell her. I didn't really know why. I just told her I needed to see it. Given the opportunity to leave work a little early today, I went on my own to the theater. (It had to be on my own.)

The movie began, and immediately I was tense. I've never been tense at the start of a movie, ever. I have a habit during some movies - and I promise you it's unconscious for a few moments before I realize I'm doing it - to sort of squeeze the napkins that I have with my popcorn or whatever like I'm John Wooden coaching with his rolled-up program in his right hand. Once I realize it, I sort of continue doing it as a silly homage to Wooden. Today, though, in the opening minute of the film, I grabbed the napkins and rolled them up on purpose. Call it pathetic - really, I understand - but I felt I needed something to hold on to. Something to grip

It was because the movie grips you and I swear, it does not let you go. Again, it was unlike any experience I've ever had. Normally, if a movie starts to get to me - whether it's a garden variety horror movie or some insistent human drama (the night before and morning of the final battle of Glory comes to mind), I can step back if I need to and say, "This is just a movie." And I can breathe like a non-simpering human.

But I don't think there were 20 seconds in this nearly two-hour film that I was able to do that. I realized early on that I couldn't say, "This is just a movie," because it wasn't. For one moment, I tried to think of bigger horrors, and the December 2004 tsunami came to mind, and that gave me a moment's freedom from United 93, but the movie immediately pulled me back in, and didn't really let go of me long enough to let me think of another release mechanism. The only other moment I could step back was when I tried to understand why, as the passengers overtly prepared to fight the terrorists, why all the terrorists didn't try to barricade themselves in the cockpit. Once I understood, I was back in.

I felt I was in a room - not a plane, that would be too precious - but in a room that no matter how much I stepped back, the room would extend back behind me, elastic, a rubber room, egg-shaped, dark with only the light of the movie in front of me. It wouldn't let me bust out the back end, not even close. As I pushed back, the back of the room pushed me forward. Not harshly, but insistently. There was no getting out.

I didn't cry much. The only time I cried was when the passengers began making their farewell phone calls to their families. That pulled the string on me. Otherwise, it was just a riveted, relentless ... if the word hadn't been defined altogether differently in A Clockwork Orange, it could have been invented for this ... horrorshow.

When the plane went down, I just rolled my head back, like I was watching someone pass away quietly. It was not a jolt. It was the culmination of watching someone who had been on life support - because we knew the plane was terminal when the movie began - reach the end.

I didn't linger in the dark theater for the closing credits like I normally do. I was due home. As I walked out of the theater, there was a strange phenomenon. From the moment I saw the usher open the doors of the theater, smiling the friendly but timid smile of a good working person conscious of what her clientele just has experienced, the tables had turned. The world was offering me escape from the movie, and I was resisting. I wasn't ready to let go of the horror. I passed people in line for the Mission Impossible sequel; I passed someone recruiting for a future movie screening. Music played in and around the cinema - a song ended, and the next one, ridiculously, was Earth, Wind and Fire's "September." I passed people walking toward the ticketing area, and I felt this undeniable separation. Of course, anyone over the age of roughly 9 remembers 9/11, but they weren't going through it again like those of us who had just seen this movie were. I didn't feel superior, I didn't feel inferior. I just felt I was walking in a different plane.

As I got in my car - and I apologize for the Wonder Years-style revelation, but this is how it happened - I solved the mystery of why I needed to see United 93. I needed the reminder of how it felt. I didn't want to forget the people we lost. I didn't want to forget the baby I lost. As nice as it has been to let the fever of September 2001 dissipate, my life isn't real without it.

Sometimes the hole closes up. Sometimes, I learned this week, you need to reopen it.

This feeling will pass, which is a relief and a sadness for me all at once.

2006-05-05 22:58:12
1.   Linkmeister
That's the best explanation I've read for why it should be seen (I haven't yet, but based on that, I think I should).
2006-05-06 00:56:26
2.   Inside Baseball
That was an amazing write-up. Thank you.

I remember seeng the preview for this movie a few months back. I had some vague recollection of a movie being made about the event, but wasn't expecting to see the preview then. Immediately I felt uncomfortable with the idea but soon into the preview I found myself completely engrossed and by the end of it I wished that it was the movie playing right then.

I was looking forward to seeing it before, now after reading this I wish I knew exactly when that will be.

2006-05-06 06:45:18
3.   Kayaker7
Thanks for that Jon. My wife is pregnant with our second child, and I know the harrowing feeling when you fear a miscarriage. She is in her 19th week, so it appears the high risk period is past, but we had a few scares along the way. Stresses from her job, and frequent illnesses passed on by our son, who attends daycare, has not helped. Sorry to hear of your loss.
2006-05-06 09:24:53
4.   Marty
Just a great, great piece Jon. I'm really sorry to hear about the miscarriage. My mother had one in her first pregnancy, but she never wanted to talk about it, so I really had no connection to it.

I'm like your wife when it comes to seeing that movie. You couldn't drag me to it. But it's really good to hear a different viewpoint and get an understanding for why people do feel the need to see it.


2006-05-06 09:32:26
5.   Curtis Lowe
Very heartful write-up Jon. I've been on the fence about seeing this but now am really thikning I should.
2006-05-06 10:45:57
6.   bigblue22
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and emotions so articulately Jon. Sorry to hear about your terrible loss. My two year old daughter is sitting on my lap now so I really feel compassion for you.
2006-05-06 11:00:34
7.   Sam DC
marvelous piece. I really can't think of anything in my life I was less prepared for than my wife's first miscarriage (we've had two). Seems like one of those things that many experience but no one ever really talks about. At the time, my wife ran a website where she collected headlines about women's issues and the law and occasionally wrote short articles/musings. It was a blog, I guess, but this was 1998-99 and we didn't know the word blog at that time. Anyhow, she was never really sure anyone was reading the thing, but she wrote a piece about her experience (and about pregnancy tests in general) and all of sudden came this flood of responses from women wanting to describe their experiences. (Emails to my wife, her site did not have a comment forum.) Now I go out of my way to tell folks about this experience at appropriate times, in the hope it would be less of a shock to others.

A long way of saying, what a good use of your platform here -- I bet you've reached many folks with this well-told story.

2006-05-06 11:34:13
8.   dzzrtRatt
This is great writing, Jon. You've evoked the bleak emotions of that time, with the added recollection of what your family was going through simultaneously. It's a comment on the nature of humanity that new layers of experience eventually bury the horror of a moment you never thought you would let go of. So the question raised by the release of "United 93" is whether there's a point in excavating this one.

Like the folks above, I think you've talked me into seeing the film, and persuaded me that we absolutely need reminders in our culture of the true nature of the war we're really in. Both political parties have so corrupted 9/11 to serve their petty purposes, I think a lot of people have decided that their feelings about that day must be made to fit a partisan framework that supports their "side." It sounds like this movie could provide a route back to the truths 9/11 revealed about the historic moment we're still in.

2006-05-06 11:42:19
9.   bill cox
Jon,Truly a beautiful piece.I have already decided to see the film ,but that evokes more understanding of why I need to.
My clearest memory of that time is the friday following.For some reason,my local school system didn't cancel the opening week of high school football.When they played the Star Spangled Banner,I remember weeping openly and unashamedly.It seemed a rallying point and even the game itself was a glimpse of normality when the world suddenly seemed so frightening.Thanks again.
2006-05-06 12:18:28
10.   Vishal
you very eloquently captured that dazed/lost feeling i think we all felt that month to some degree. as uncomfortable as that feeling was, i think you're right that it's worthwhile and necessary to be reminded of it every now and then. i'm sorry that your circumstances were so particularly difficult, though. being a young single guy, i can't even imagine what a miscarriage must feel like, but it sounds traumatic to say the least.
2006-05-06 17:20:46
11.   mrybill
This is one of those interesting coincidences in that I got home less than an hour ago from seeing this movie. My motivation was about the same as yours, I also went alone, and I had very nearly the same reactions as you.
One interesting reaction I had to the movie, looking back, was I had a definite change in mood once the passengers started the counterattack. As Jon said, everyone knows how it turned out, but I couldn't help feeling something very much like gratitude for what they did.
Please see this movie. We must not forget this.
2006-05-06 18:27:40
12.   gcrl
we hosted my son's 1st birthday party on september 9th, 2001, and so we experienced some pretty high highs immediately preceding the lowest lows that week. i remember getting the film from the party developed a week or so later, and seeing the pictures we took that day, thinking how naive or innocent we were. today, i don't necessarily associate his birthday with what happened so soon after we celebrated his first, but it's impossible to not think about it.
i also plan to see this movie alone. the last time i did that was when i went to see "the passion".
2006-05-06 20:32:02
13.   walbers
powerful and very moving, Jon, especially as I sit in a hotel in Hong Kong...the same place I was when i experienced the awfulness of that day. i was determined not to see the movie, but after reading your comments perhaps I should see it. thanks....rgds, will
2006-05-07 07:18:33
14.   MollyKnight
Thank you so much for that, Jon. Thank you so very much.
2006-05-09 15:08:48
15.   Dennis Cozzalio
Jon, I've been away for a while, and I just read your piece with tears in my eyes. As a father of two who has experienced two miscarriages and the loss of a baby boy just a week before the due date, I felt your conclusion about why seeing the movie was so important coming midway through reading the essay because it felt so true to my own feelings about dealing with that kind of loss. I haven't yet seen UNITED 93, and I honestly don't know if I want to deal with it, but I am grateful that you did. If you don't mind, I'd like to link to this article on my own site and direct some of my readers to your unique perspective on it. Thanks again.
2006-05-09 16:38:17
16.   Jon Weisman
Thanks, Dennis, and to everyone for their supportive comments.

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