September 11 , 2003


Reflections on a tragedy

When beginning this article — asking local residents how 9/11 still affects their life, if at all — this reporter didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps people have nothing more to say. Perhaps something that happened two years ago in New York City and Washington, D.C., really didn’t much impact a tiny town in Ohio, or, if it did then, does no more.

Wrong, wrong and wrong again. The big surprise was this — how much everyone had to say about the effects of 9/11, and how passionately they said it.

“Overall,” said Dave Smith, a Yellow Springs High School guidance counselor, “that was the day the universe changed.”

For most people in Yellow Springs, Sept. 11, 2001, doesn’t much affect their daily life. Unlike many New Yorkers, villagers still have the same habits, the same activities, the same routines. Many are especially grateful, in this time of heightened world terrorism, to be living in a bucolic Midwestern village that seems unlikely to end up in a terrorist’s line of sight.

And yet. Several of the 20 people randomly surveyed said that, while the surface of their lives remains unchanged, a subtle undercurrent that they link to 9/11 persists.

“That event, in conjunction with my children growing up and going out into the world, makes me aware how fragile we are in terms of our security,” said Chris Mucher, president of the Miami Township trustees. “It doesn’t change how I go about my day-to-day life. But things are not the same.”

For Debbie Henderson, Sept. 11 was the wakeup call to herself and other Baby Boomers. “I was just thinking about this, about how, for my generation there will never again be the sense that we’re inviolate,” she said. “It gives you something to work on, to try to be present and grateful for what’s now. We know there are no guarantees.”

Educator tries to understand

A lifelong educator who spent seven years living and teaching in the Middle East, Jim Malarkey, director of the Weekend College at Antioch University McGregor, feels that both his vocation and his experience give him a responsibility for trying to understand 9/11. Since the event, he has spent hours researching American politics and Islamic culture in order to present workshops and classes.

“This fits squarely on the conscience of educators,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves, how is it that we’re preparing our students to become citizens in the world we’re living in?”

Malarkey said that his research has led him to “discover things that are disturbing, things that aren’t being communicated. It’s an unpleasant feeling not to trust in one’s leaders. I feel deeply distressed. I don’t get the same pleasure out of life I used to get.”

Anger toward Bush

It’s clear that President Bush should bypass Yellow Springs on his fundraising tours, since many local residents reported feeling ongoing anger at the government’s response to 9/11, especially its invasion of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

“I’m horrified by the way the president has taken this disaster and turned it into an opportunity to impose militaristic Americana on the rest of the world,” Flo Lorenz said as she sat with a group of friends at The Emporium.

Stan Bernstein echoed her concerns. “I feel really saddened by the loss of life, the loss of innocence,” he said. “And I’m saddened that 9/11 has become an excuse for all sorts of irrational acts by our government, an excuse to curb civil liberties, to go to war for insufficient reasons and to further destroy the economy.”

Out on Xenia Avenue, Doug Babineau reflected on the lessons of his Native American heritage, and how the U.S. government’s response to 9/11 seemed to mirror the government’s response to his own culture.

“My culture has been stomped on,” he said. “I wish some people were a little more humble and would respect others’ way of life. Let me have my spirituality and let the Iraqi people have theirs.”

Beyond that, Babineau’s experience fighting in Vietnam has led him to oppose the war in Iraq. “There’s too much fighting,” he said. “I can still smell the gunpowder and the burning. I can hear the sounds. I know what war can do to a beautiful place.”

While our military continues to wage war on Iraq, many villagers expressed unease at the war’s destruction.

Carl Bradley, who was also sitting at The Emporium, said that “the number of lives being lost” is troubling.

Malarkey said, most disturbing, is that our government responded to the 9/11 tragedy only with force. “There are reasons that motivated the terrorists, reasons that need to be addressed regardless of whether we agree with what they did,” he said. “Instead of that, we’re not only fighting the terrorists, we’re creating more.”

Concern for the economy

Others stated that their primary objection to the government’s response to 9/11 is how they believe the war effort has contributed to a faltering economy.

“This administration has saddled our children and grandchildren to a lifetime of paying off a debt they did not create,” Orlando Brown said. “I don’t think we needed to get into this thing in Iraq. I never dreamed I’d live to see a trillion-dollar deficit.”

In addition, Brown said that “the effects on my life from 9/11 will continue from now until my life is over.” A lifelong traveler, Brown said that he and his wife, Leanora, fly less than they used to since 9/11. Instead, they drive or take the train.

“Airplanes give me the jitters now,” he said. “I’m very hesitant about flying.”

The economy was also cited by J.R. Benton as the way 9/11 continues to affect his life.

“Banks aren’t as free to lend as they used to be,” he said. “I don’t know how people with a minimum-wage job make it. By the time you go to the grocery and the gas station, there’s no money left.”

Several villagers cited the U.S. Patriot Act, and its seeming erosion of Americans’ privacy, as what most disturbs them about 9/11.

John Geri, sitting at The Emporium, told of a librarian friend who said the government now has the right to find out what books a person checks out of a library, without that person’s knowledge. “I see my future as clouded because of a loss of privacy, a loss of rights,” he said.

Some support President Bush

While the overwhelming majority of those surveyed oppose the Bush administration’s response to 9/11, Yellow Springs is also home to many Bush supporters.

“Americans value their freedoms and tolerance and 9/11 was a rude awakening that we need to protect what we value,” said Village Council member George Pitstick. “We need to continue to put forth much effort and sacrifice to preserve what we cherish for many years to come.

“There are people on this earth who do not think as we do,” he said. “We value diversity, we value others’ opinions. They do not. They look at values different than theirs as to destroying those values. We look at them to preserve them.”

Life is harder for immigrants

Three young women standing on Xenia Avenue, all fourth-year students at Antioch College, said their day to day lives have been significantly affected by 9/11, largely because they are foreign-born.

“It has made life so much harder for immigrants,” said Rosa Yacob of Ethiopia. “It was already hard but 9/11 made it worse.”

Jobs are harder to come by, and it’s now difficult to get a driver’s license, Yacob said. Most frustrating, they said, is that Americans don’t seem to understand that everyone shares the same fears of terrorism. “We’re scared too,” said Marium Sidibeh of Gambia. “On 9/11 a lot of the people who died were from my country.”

Effects on young people

At Yellow Springs High School, the effects of Sept. 11 were more evident the year after the tragedy, said counselor Dave Smith. Young people talked more then about the event and seemed “to feel that the other shoe would drop,” he said.

High school students got involved in protest against the Iraqi war last school year, which seemed to be one way they responded to the 9/11 tragedy, he said.

“It seemed a mature separation of the issues,” he said. “They felt that our country didn’t necessarily need to respond by striking back.”

Those who teach the village’s youngest children are thinking about how they will address the 9/11 anniversary in class today.

“The kids are still questioning, still nervous,” said Mikasa Simms, who teaches second grade at Mills Lawn. On the day of the tragedy, teachers attempted to continue their normal routines as much as possible, she said, and she predicted that she would do the same this year.

Kindergarten teacher Becky Brunsman said that the father of a student recently asked her how she planned to address the 9/11 anniversary. “It’s clearly on the minds of the adults,” said Brunsman, adding that the man’s question has prompted her to think about how to respond to children’s needs, including “what words to choose.”

Horror and heroism

Sept. 11, 2001, was a day of horror and heroism, of kindness and of killing, both the best and the worst that human beings have to offer. It took place in only one day two years ago, but its effects linger.

Carl Bradley may have said it best. When asked about the effects of 9/11 on his life, he said, “I’ll be reflecting on this for some time.”

—Diane Chiddister