The View From Overseas

I sit watching for the next 5 hours as the events of the day unfold. The images I'm watching seem so wrong, so impossible and the unemotional reporting from a rooftop in midtown makes the events seem even more unreal. There's a business conference going on in the adjacent room of the guest house. A few of the participants wander in to find out what's going on. I have to explain a bit about U.S. geography so they can follow. I'm racing back and forth between the small lounge and the garden outside for better reception on my cell phone. Calls are coming in from family in the States, from my friend Megan in Spain who's on holiday, watching TV in a small pub somewhere. Megan doesn't speak Spanish. I phone Andrew Jones who's busy shooting a commercial down in KwaZulu-Natal and isn't near a TV. Andrew tells me he has a nephew who works in the Pentagon. Suddenly I remember that when I introduce Andrew to friends as a fellow American, he always corrects me: "African-American," he says. I wonder if he would correct me today.

A single thought keeps resonating in my mind as I watch..."what next?" I remember explaining to puzzled South Africans why I've picked their country (and Johannesburg of all places) over the safety, security, and stability of the United States. I tell them it's somewhat refreshing to live in a place where you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. Now that fundamental uncertainty has crashed into my back yard. Suddenly anything is possible in America today. After watching the two towers of the World Trade Center collapse — buildings I've always stared up at in a child-like sense of awe and wonder, buildings I stood atop as recently as 3 months ago — nothing else will surprise me. I feel a growing sense of horror, but no more shock.

The days following are like a haze. Getting up to go to work. I'm editing a car commerical with a guy from Ireland. Trying to stay focused, but it's impossible. Desperately searching for a copy of the paper on my breaks to injest every bit of news available. Getting home and staying up till 4 a.m. every night watching CNN...watching the same images, the same stories over and over. Till my eyes are half-closed and I can't absorb any more. I'm saturated. I'm numb. I feel the urge to cry as my mind begins to gain a toehold on the enormity of what has really happened. Only to find myself slipping back into the detached reality of the amorphous global news consciousness.

I feel like I'm in mourning. Although no one I know personally has been hurt or killed (although people they know have been), it feels like someone close to me has died. I'm uncomfotable around other people. It's as they know I'm grieving but are too embarrassed to acknowledge it. They'll come up to me and ask me how I feel about what's going on. They show support. They too are genuinely shocked and horrified. But I feel the divide. They are the outsiders now. And I crave the comfort of talking to other Americans. I'm dreading to see what my phone bill looks like this month.

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