Thursday, November 20, 2008

What We Learned Was Truly Important on 9.11... Ian McEwan

"The mobile phone has inserted itself into every crevice of our daily lives. Now in catastrophe, if there is time enough, it is there in our dying moments. All through Thursday, we heard from the bereaved how they took those last calls. Whatever the immediate circumstances, what was striking was what they had in common -- a new technology has shown us an ancient human universal.

A San Francisco husband slept through his wife's call from the World Trade Center. The tower was burning around her, and she was speaking on her mobile phone. She left her last message to him on the answering machine. A TV station played it to us, while it showed the husband standing there listening. Somehow, he was able to bear hearing it again. We heard her tell him through her sobbing that there was no escape for her; the building was on fire; there was no way down the stairs. She was calling to say goodbye. There was really only one thing for her to say, those three words that all the terrible art, the worst pop songs in movies, the most seductive lies, can somehow never cheapen: 'I love you.'

She said it over and again before the line went dead. And that is what they were all saying down their phones -- from the hijacked planes and the burning towers. There was only love and then oblivion. Love was all they had to set against the hatred of their murderers.

Last words placed in the public domain were once the prerogative of the mighty and vain and venerable -- Henry James, Nelson, Goethe, recorded and sometimes edited for posterity by relatives at the bedside. The effect was often consolatory, showing acceptance or even transcendence in the face of death. They set us an example. That these last words, spoken down mobile phones, reported to us by the bereaved, are both more haunting and true.

They compel us to imagine ourselves into that moment. What would we say? Now we know."

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