Thursday--October 17
, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 400
400 Days From Ground Zero

Are we closer to Vigilance or Terrorism?

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, October 17 -- It has been 400 days since Ground Zero Plus.   That's 9,600 hours, 576,000 minutes and 9,216,000 heartbeats later.
        We haven't yet found Osama bin Laden.
         We haven't yet attacked Iraq.
         But we do have a sniper randomly killing people, Terrorizing the citizens surrounding Washington D.C., shooting men, women and children.

Maryland State Troopers search for clues in sniper attack on 13-year-old boy

       We are also facing stiff competition at the United Nations regarding authorization to attack Iraq.    Currently, the U.N. Security Council is in debate--Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States all have different agendas regarding authorizing attacks on Iraq.   The council has allowed non-council members to sit in on the debate and input why a war in Iraq would be good or bad.   Even Kuwait, the country America liberated from Hussein's invasion, is calling for U.N. weapons inspectors to "negotiate" their way into the country rather than risk a war that would spill over into its country.
          The American public is also hedging.    After a strong State of the Union address at the beginning of the year, President Bush's ratings were in the high 80 percentile favoring action against Iraq.   Now, they have dropped to the 60 percentile range, and are dwindling.
          Despite all attempts to bring peace to Israel and Palestine, suicide bombers still strapped on dynamite and seek to find Paradise by blowing up their enemy--the women, men and children of Israel.

Temporary morgue in Bali

           In Bali, Terrorists set off car bombs that kill 182 youth in a land known to be "Paradise," but now is stained with the blood of the innocent.

Saudi women voting in blood for Hussein

         Iraq holds elections in which it claims 100 percent of the voters pour out to endorse Saddam Hussein as their leader, and support his leadership for another seven years. Some women vote with their blood to punctuate their commitment to a leader who, without hesitation, gassed over 50,000 of his own people, the Kurds, to quell an uprising.
           It seems forever, these 9,600 hours, 576,000 minutes, 9.2 million heartbeats from Ground Zero.    My mind is easily snapped back to September 11, 2001 when I heard a low-flying jet screaming overhead.   I remember the sounds of the straining engines above me hurling at 500 mph toward the World Trade Center.   I still see bodies leaping from buildings, and the roar of Hell as the icons of commerce collapsed, smothering us in a blanket of ash, turning day into night, life into instant death.

          For me, it has been nearly one million (1,000,000) words written on Vigilance versus Terrorism.   It has a been a daily recounting of the dangers of Terrorism, and the absolute, unconditional demand for Vigilance as the only combat to it that will last over time, that will protect the children's children's children.
          Unlike politicians, I don't see bombs and bullets as the means to extinguish Terrorism--not real Terrorism, that is.   I see them as an expedient way to warn Terrorists of the wrath that will be imposed upon them if they threaten or attack or support the attacks on America and the world, but a bomb crater or a body blown to bits by one is not the ultimate solutions to expunging Terrorism from the land.  In fact, it feeds the Beast of Terror who energizes his bile with revenge, hatred and retaliation.  He loves to pluck an eye for an eye.
          Iraq and Osama bin Laden are only tips of the Terroristic Iceberg.    They are mere sharp points of the Beast of Terror's sword that, when dulled or broken by attack, can be reshaped again and again into their original form by the Beast of Terror's blacksmith.
         I believe the Children of Terror wait eagerly to step into their father's shoes.
         Thus,  the dilemma of 400 days post Nine Eleven--how to convince the Children of Terror to become Children of Vigilance?  How to convince the world to become Citizens of Vigilance, rather than Victims of Terror?
         Just the other day I saw a Child of Terror.

Stream of Butterflies on Fifth Ave

        It was on prestigious Fifth Ave in uptown New York.   You see many things in New York City.  Just before I noticed the Child of Terror, a stream of butterflies skated down 5th Avenue.   They were dressed in purple with butterfly wings attached to their backs, carrying signs promoting MSNBC.    Perhaps a hundred of them skated down the avenue, dodging taxis and trucks.
         I was en route to buy my wife a wedding anniversary present.   It was cold.  I had three layers on--T-shirt, sweatshirt and down vest.  At the corner of 39th and 5th Avenue an older man was shuffling up the street, bent over as he moved his spindly legs painfully, one shuffle at a time, snailing his body forward.   
        He wore garbage bags for pants.   His left foot was wrapped in a white, battered slipper, his right foot was locked in a old leather sandal.   A dirty blanket was draped over his hunched spine.  He stabbed a bent aluminum cane ahead of each step to balance his forward, pained shuffle.  A rope tied around his waist dragged a plastic milk crate full of cans he dug out of each trash can he passed.
        His name was Willy.   He wore a sign around his neck, scrawled in hesitant letters, telling all passersby he was sick and old and hungry and needed help.   In his left hand he feebly held up a tattered, empty orange juice carton seeking funds from the thousands who swept by him wearing suites and ties and fine dresses, and warm clothes.
       I stopped and followed Willy for a while, not gawking at him, but rather reminding myself that Terrorism isn't the venue of nation-states thousands of miles away, but rather exists in pitiable predominance right under our own noses.  Willy was certainly Terrorized by both disease and an apparent life of extreme hardship.   As I watched him shuffling in agony, his spidery legs smaller than those of the statute of Gandhi in Union Square Park, I  listened to him blessing people who put nickels, dimes, quarters and dollars in the orange juice carton.

       "God, bless you...and your family.."
       "God, bless you...and your family."
       Willy didn't need the signs draped around his neck--or the one tied to the plastic milk container he dragged behind him like an aluminum sea anchor--to let the world know he was in dire need.    Willy was our walking Terrorism Poster--our Child of Terror--a signet that our problems are rooted here, in our own soil.   Willy could have been a beggar in India, or Afghanistan, or any country known for sickness, poverty and desolation of the human spirit.
      I noted that the crowds of people pushing their way up and down the sidewalks didn't make a wide Complacent swath around Willy.   Most of the time they do around the marginalized, disenfranchised souls who invade the upper edges of society..
      Instead, people were walking close to Willy.   Many stopped to put alms in his beggar's cup, and paused for a brief moment rather than rush away.  It was as though they wanted to hear Willy's blessing:  "God bless you...and your family," issued in a such a faint Voice, a Voice you knew was not long for this earth, and yet a Voice filled with love and compassion.

      I took some clandestine pictures, shooting my camera from the hip rather than raising it to my eyelevel in an obvious gesture of photography.    I didn't want to demean Willy, spectacalize him.
       I followed him at a snail's pace for about a block and a half.   Under normal New York walking speed, I could have traversed six times the amount of blocks.  
       Willy's every move was pained.   When someone left him something,  Willy stopped and laboriously ratcheted his head toward them to thank them in a weak, but sincere Voice that could be heard above the din of the traffic and the ambient clatter of a city whose cacophony is known to drown human screams.   But around Willy was an aura of reverence, a kind of hollowed sanctuary that radiated from him, causing people passing by to respect rather than abhor his sight.
      I began to see Willy not as a beggar, a frail, wounded creature of HIV virus seeking pity from his fellow brothers and sisters, but more as a Sentinel of Vigilance, a symbol of humanity on its last legs, traveling through the madding crowd with a simple message:  "There but for the Grace of God go I."
      People seemed to feel the radiance of Willy's Courage to walk up the streets of wealthy, busy humanity in threadbare clothing, dragging his milk carton behind, his toothpick legs wobbling with every step.   His face was not twisted in pain or his eyes rimmed with anger at those passing by as is often the case of those others  who hold out cups and shake them at you as though you owed them.
      Willy was different.

       I wondered if maybe he was Jesus in disguise, or Buddha, or Mohammed--one of the great religious icons returned to earth and walk it in beggar's clothing to evaluate whether the sparks of humanity still exist, or if the world had retreated into a complete selfish shell, ignoring the gift of health and wealth and righteously denying the poor and battered their respect.
      If Willy was one of these Messiah reincarnates, he was chalking up a lot of pluses for humanity on Fifth Avenue.
       The Saddam Hussein's, the bin Ladens, the al-Qaeda's--they seemed to turn to soft wax, as though Willy's candle of human spirit and his willingness to walk the last mile of his life up Fifth Avenue meant more to the future of the world than the eradication of those Beasts of Terror who thumb their nose at America, and challenge our leaders to reduce them to ash.
     Willy was offering the world of Fifth Avenue a message: that Terrorism is a home front battle, best fought with a Pledge of Vigilance rather than a bomb or bullet. 
      For those wrapped in the cloth of self-pity or self-pain over their own past, present and future, Willy's presence was symbolic that one can drive Fear, Intimidation and Complacency away even in the worst of life's pains.   Willy was, without question, walking wrapped in the swaddling cloth of near death.
      I thought of the abuse that Willy might have suffered as a child, either from a physical or emotional level, that caused him to demean his body and mind to such an extent that his life became a walking disease of pain and suffering.   I wondered if his life would have turned out different had he been a Child of Vigilance rather than one of Terror?
      Then I thought of the resurrection of Willy.   I thought about the man mustering up the will to walk up Fifth Avenue with a orange juice carton and garbage bags for leggings, and shrouded by an old blanket.    I thought of his Voice saying, "God, bless you...and your family" as though he were the Pope of the City, offering those who paid him tribute a moment of humanity, a moment in which the barriers between rich and poor, fortunate and unfortunate, crumbled.  It was his added blessing, "...and your family," that made me pay close attention.   He was not just talking about the "family" of the people, I thought, but the "family of humanity."  He was blessing the children's children's children.

      On Nine Eleven, barriers between people fell.   Rich and poor helped one another.   Educated and uneducated walked hand-in-hand through the rubble.   Enemies became allies.   Conservatives and Liberals became brothers and sisters.    On that horrific day, some 400 days ago, humanity became one--a group of Vigilant people working as one to save and heal the souls of the lost, regardless of differences.
      Willy reminded me of that day.   He reminded me that the Circle of Vigilance was still strong, that its links were still intact.

       I slipped up beside Willy and put some bills in the container.   Willy turned his head slowly, like an old sea turtle might crawling up the beach he was born upon to take his last breath before he died.  Willy looked at me with soft cataract eyes and said, "God, bless you...and your family.  God, bless you...and your family."
      There was no doubt.  He was a Sentinel of Vigilance, if not for all others, at least for me.

Oct 16--The Sniper Of 1492

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