Zero Plus 363
"The Eve Of Terrorism"
One In A Series of: "Conversations
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent
Note: Occasionally, I have a conversation with
"God," who, has no particular denomination. He/She/It represents
a combination of all "spiritual" beliefs. For those who choose
not to believe in a "higher power," consider these conversations a
soliloquy of feelings between myself and my alter ego.
GROUND ZERO, New York
City, September 10-- God has indigestion. I hear His
The Angels clutch their talons
fiercely around their golden, open roosts when he
belches and brace for the great gush of wind that follow. I grab the handles of the great oak chair in which I sit,
lower my head, and feel as though I am in a wind tunnel.
"Sorry. It's those barbequed
tortilla chips. I shouldn't have eaten them. Well, not
the whole bag."
Next to God's throne is not one, but a
trio of empty bags. Remnants of the chips flake on God's long white beard,
leaving reddish yellow stains in the strands..
His thick, wrinkled fingers press against the white robe, massaging his belly.
"Oh, I can't believe I ate so much..."
God looks at me, then laughs. "Remember that, son. It's
the Alka Seltzer commercial. I saw it once. I thought it
was great." He puts His hand to His head, mimicking how the
commercial aired years ago.
"Oh, I ate too much!" He belly
laughs at Himself. I clutch the worn armrests of the Visitors' Chair.
The force of His laugh tilts it slightly backwards. The Angels
lower their heads, letting the aerodynamics of the shape slice through the
"What brings you here, Cliff?
As though I didn't know!" God holds out His hand. An
swoops down and deposits a cold Pepsi One can in it, With his great
thumb, God one-handedly pops the top and takes a big swig.
"I'm dieting. Want one?"
"No thank you, sir."
"Call me God, today, Cliff.
None of that military stuff."
after many visits that He likes to be called different things.
I don't stumble over His request as I have before. But I am
wary of Him. He reeks power and wrath.
meeting President Reagan and President Ford. I invited
them to speak to 15,000 potential voters, each at different times.
When I approached them to say hello, I felt an invisible wall emanate
from their being. The closer I came, the thicker the wall.
It was a wall of Power, a wall of Intimidation.
though they were human, they were beyond human. Their ability to
change the world reeked from their pores. I was humbled in their
presence. God was like that to the tenth power.
His power made me feel like an ant crawling around an elephant's pen.
"What can I do for you today, son?"
"I just wanted to see you. I'm
not sure why?"
"Doubt," God said, wiping His mouth with
the back of His hand. "It's always Doubt that drives one to this
"But...I don't doubt you, sir...er...God?"
"It's not me, you Doubt, son. It's
you." God laughs softly, gently. It's as though He can
sneeze lightening bolts one minute, and feathers the next.
I don't answer. I believe in
His omnipotence, or I am afraid to challenge it. I'm not sure which.
I only know I'm not going to question His authority to know why I'm here.
"It's the Eve of the Anniversary of Destruction, son.
One always questions God on the Eve of Destruction."
I squirm. I
feel the worn oak against my buttocks.
The word "destruction" rattles in my head. God reads
"You are questioning your Sentinels of
Vigilance, son. You are saying: 'Are they real...these
Sentinels of yours? Did you just make them
up? Are they merely seeds of a fertile imagination or true
mentors of a society desperate to renew itself in the face of the harsh
reality its government can't protect it?
Will anyone really believe you? Are you duping yourself and
others?' Yes, I know why you're here. The great five
letter word drove you here--D-O-U-B-T!"
God leans forward and places his Great Hand
on my shoulder. I feel their warmth and their limitless power.
I try not to tense. It
is like having a Grizzly Bear put his razor sharp claws on your shoulder
and look at you with compassion and love, while all the time you know that
if he wanted to he could crush you with one squeeze, eradicate you in a blink.
"I haven't really thought about that,
"You have. You just don't want to
admit it. It's your Terror, Cliff. What if the
world wants to bury all those people who died on Nine Eleven...that's how
you say it, isn't it? Nine Eleven?"
I nod. His hand is still on my
shoulder. I fight to remain relaxed, pleading with my body not to
tense, not to show my hidden fears to Him. He takes His hand off
and sits back.
"I understand, son. You're
trying to resurrect the dead, while everyone else is trying to bury them.
People say: 'Let's get on with life! Let's not dwell in the
past!' You don't have to tell me how difficult that is. I've been working
on getting people to believe Jesus was resurrected for over two-thousand
years. You've only been at your job of selling resurrection for a year.
Patience, Cliff. Patience."
He reaches under his throne
and extracts yet another bag of chips. They are sour cream and
cheddar cheese flavored. He rips open the top and offers me one.
I have learned not to refuse food from him. I timidly take one.
"Here, you're a growing man." He shakes
some into my lap, then shoves His hand in the bag and feeds Himself three
in a row. "Tasty. I like these better. So, let's
get back to why you're here.
You want me to tell you
you're right on, is that, Cliff? You want me to confirm the world
will embrace your Shield of Vigilance, your Pledge of Vigilance, your
formulas for fighting Terrorism with Vigilance. Is that what you
I shift in my
seat. My palms sweat. I'm not sure why I'm here.
I just felt the need to come. I try and be honest in my
"I'm not sure, God. Maybe that's part of it.
I've spent a year of my life believing and writing about the Sentinels of
Vigilance. Now, I guess, I'm being asked to test my faith.
Maybe I am looking for an endorsement, but I know you can't give it.
That's not your job."
"That's right, son. If I could wave
my hand over the world, I'd make believers out of everyone. Doesn't
work that way. Belief is a private thing. I gave it to
all the other creatures. Mother Nature follows my rules
without question. But, ah, you wild and crazy humans....that Free
Will I gave you...oh, what headaches it has caused me. I
sometimes wish I had left you alone. But then I wouldn't
have much to do but sleep and snore if the world ran like a clock, would
I barely hear what he says. "I am worried, God."
God leans forward. He
halts the forward motion of a chip heading for his open mouth and let his
eyes capture mine.
"About what, Cliff. What are you worried about?"
"This impending war with Iraq.
My guts tell me it's going to be really bad. It will backfire on us.
It will endanger my children, my grandchildren."
"All war is a bad, son.
What is it about this one? What are feeling?"
"I'm torn up inside. I
know if we don't do anything, this Hussein guy will have more power than
ever. Bush has shoved him against the wall. If
Bush doesn't attack, then Hussein looks like a hero. He's bullied
the bully. If Bush doesn't act on his threats, Hussein can keep doing what he's
been doing--maybe all
the things we're saying he's doing. And he'll have more support than ever
because he won the Mexican Standoff against Bush. I don't like
it at all."
"Do you think he's as mad as your
President says he is? Bent on destroying anyone who threatens him?"
"I only know that if I stick a
bayonet at a man's guts and tell him I'm going to shove it in and twist
it, the man has no recourse but to fight to the death for his life.
When you shove a gun in someone's face, cock the trigger and start
squeezing the it, you create a time bomb. I see the U.S.
doing that. Every day we squeeze the trigger a little more. Most
combat triggers need only four pounds of pressure before the hammer falls.
I think we've got about three and a half squeezed so far."
"And..." God leans back,
waiting for the rest of something I'm supposed to say, but I don't know
what.. He quietly munches on a chip, studying my
face, waiting. I feel he's conducting an MRI of my soul, my thoughts, but it's okay.
Part of me needs to share my Fears, my Intimidations, my Complacencies
with someone I can trust.
Terrorism, I know,
hides under the soul's rocks, where it is dark and slimy and little light
shines so its fungus can grow.
"I figure that if we attack Hussein, he
will retaliate. I figure he's got a plan set in cement and has
booby trapped lots of places...like New York City....where my children and
grandchildren live. If we launch an attack, I'm sure he'll trigger his own war the instant we strike.
He won't go down without hurting us. Trapped animals always have an
escape route...and his, I believe, will be to do everything in his power
to destroy or maim as many of us as he
can...for history's sake, if nothing else."
"Kind of like Hitler ordering all his men
to fight to the death at the end of the war?"
"Yes, just like that. Even though it
was futile, he wanted to go out with as many of us with him as possible.
I see Hussein cut from the same cloth, but smarter. I would
guess he's got the
U.S. wired. I would if I were he. We've been threatening him so long, he's had over
a decade to get ready for this. It frightens me to think what
he will do."
"So, you're really not as worried about
your Pledge of Vigilance as you are what Hussein is going to do, is that
"I guess. My writings will take
years to take hold of the world, if they ever do. But this
fear I have about my kid's and grandkid's safety, and all the other people,
that's a Right Now issue, God. I guess I'm pleading with you
for some help."
"What would you have me do?"
"I really don't know. When two
bullies meet on the streets, everyone around suffers. Behind
Saddam Hussein is another Saddam Hussein. Behind Bush is another
Bush. It's all a vicious circle.
Perhaps...." I pause and look Him square in the eye...." a miracle?"
I wait for God to laugh or
groan. I'm glad He
doesn't do either. Instead, He takes my hand and sandwiches it
between His. I feel I'm in a trap. .
"Vigilance, Cliff. That's the
Miracle you're facing. How much Courage, Conviction and Right Action
can you muster in these times?
Oh, I wish I could pass my hand
over your world and shower the skies with flowers and the sounds of
harps...or make the skies thunder and roar with disgruntled anger at the
madness of those who believe they can risk the lives of so many for such
frivolous reasons." God took a swig of Pepsi. He pushed his
face close to mine, lowering his Voice
"But I can't do that.
Unfortunately, I locked myself out of the program that would reverse your
Free Will. I'm stuck with you and you're stuck with me.
But I can assure you of one thing--Right will always conquer Wrong.
Good will always rise out of the Bad."
"No disrespect, God, but that sounds so
rhetorical. It's like a Band-Aid on a gut wound. It
makes me question your benevolence. Why can't something be
done to stop the madness. If we attack Iraq, Hussein
will surely hurt and maim our innocent. I know that as I know the
pores on my face."
God released my hand. He
stroked his beard.
"You may well be right, Cliff.
Violence begets violence. And, I'm so sorry for you that you
live in such a limited time span. You see, in my world, eternity is
the Grandfather Clock. What's happening in 2002... your time... is only a miniscule
part of Eternal History. In the grander view, I know all will be well.
You're seeing the eternity as a second in time, I'm seeing it as a year. Your doubts
about the Limited Now are my beliefs in the Eternal Now.
"Can't you slow yours down, God?
Can't you stop the Eternal Clock and live in the day?"
"I wish I could. I wish I could reach
down and shield every child from harm. They are the innocent ones,
Cliff. They are the unprotected. You saw that in
Vietnam. Your first combat mission, you saw a child without a head,
severed by your artillery. You saw its mother wailing, looking for
the child's head. You were saddened and sickened by it, I know.
Those who wage war don't think
of the children or the innocent. They only think of delivering each other's heads on
a platter. Hussein wants Bush's on his platter, and Bush wants Hussein's
on his. What it costs to get those heads is not part of the
"Then do something!" I
raised my Voice. The Angels standing guard above God jerked their
heads toward me. Two took to the air, hovering, eyes flicking
between me and God. God raised his hand to command the Angels back
to their roosts.
"Do you know how many people like
you, Cliff, have sat in that same chair you're sitting in, and demanded
that I..do something! I can't count them all, and I'm
God. If I could, I would rid the earth of war,
pestilence, disease, famine, plague, hatred, envy, pride, sloth, lust.
I would return it to Paradise as it once was.
I would turn all human beings into
animals, with only instincts and no ability to reason or think on their
own. You are the only creatures who wage war on yourselves.
On the plus side, you are also the only creatures who wage peace on yourselves.
"Look at your history.
Never before has there been so much peace among human beings.
Centuries ago wars were fought everywhere virtually all the time.
You have no idea how far you've advanced, and will yet advance.
You grow more peaceful out of the lessons of each war. The beast in
you loses its strength.
"Oddly, you care more about the
life of a spotted owl and its ability to propagate than you do about your
own children. You sanction abortion in humans but criminalize it in
the animal kingdom. You confuse me, sometimes. But
I have faith in you, in all humans, to eventually do what is right for the
children. If I could intervene now, I'd turn you all back into
creatures with instincts, and wash my hands of trying to teach you love
and compassion and peace. But I can't. You have to learn that
on your own, even if it costs lives."
"That sounds so cruel and heartless."
"Look, Cliff. Look what you've done
with the 3,000 people who died on September 11 in one small patch of the
earth. You created Sentinels of Vigilance. You attack
Terrorism in the child's mind. You promote Courage, Conviction and
Right Action. That wouldn't have happened if Nine Eleven
" Thousands upon thousands other people died that day just as
senselessly as those in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in
Pennsylvania. But television cameras weren't trained on
them. The world didn't see their destruction.
could, I would show you scenes of starving children on their deathbeds for
twenty-four hours solid, seven days a week on every channel. Or, I would
broadcast the butchery of people in far distant lands on your nightly news.
It would sicken you, Cliff. You'd vomit for weeks. But that's
the bad news. The good news is if I showed the numbers of those who
died senselessly a hundred years ago versus today,
you would be impressed, you would say, 'Hmmmm, God, humans are getting
better and better all the time..". You're seeing the Eve of
Destruction, Cliff. You need to see the Dawn of Vigilance,
"Does that mean you're not going to
God grunted, as though
to break the tension.
"God has His ways, Cliff.
Some call me by different names, and picture me in different ways, but I
hear them all. I will do what I can, as I always do.
But, you must not lose your faith in the future, Cliff, or the past.
You must continue to see your Battle for Vigilance as a worthy cause.
You must not give up, even if the threats you see haunt you, make you
question me and yourself. The future is bright, son.
What are you going to do tomorrow?"
I leaned back, exhausted.
It seemed I had been banging my head against God's Wall. His
question startled me to my here and now.
"My wife and I are going to a sunrise
service near battery park, at 5:30 a.m. It will be our way of
paying respects to the Dawn of Vigilance."
"That's good. What else?"
"I'm going to the street where I was when
the first tower collapsed, and remember that moment when I saw the Spirits
of Vigilance rise up out of the smoke."
"That's good too. What else?"
"I'm going to try and believe in you...that
you are watching over us all....but it may be hard....I want to be
honest...if we attack Iraq and Hussein retaliates against us, it will be
hard, God, to believe. You understand that?"
"Of course, son. I know the
greatest believers have been the greatest doubters. Faith and
Vigilance are brothers and sisters. Both are hard to achieve,
because they take effort to see beyond the problems of Right Now.
You ask people to build Courage, Conviction and Right Action out of Fear,
Intimidation and Complacency. That's like asking people to have
Faith out of Doubt. Not an easy task, Cliff. Not
easy at all." God popped a fresh Pepsi One and handed it to
me. My mouth was dry. I took it and gulped it down.
"Time for you to go, Cliff. I
will do what I can and you do what you can. That's the most we can
hope for. The rest, well, that's yet to come. But
in the long run, Cliff, know that Good will overcome all. That
I can guarantee."
God stood. Pieces of broken
sour cream and cheddar cheese chips parachuted off his robe onto the cloud
puff upon which
he stood. He motioned for my Transport Angel. I
rose and the Angel swooped me upon its back, hovering so I was eye level
"You take care, Cliff. Semper
The Angel flapped
its wings, soaring me back to earth, to where the Here and Now
existed in a framework far different than the one I had just
visited. As it put me down in the East Village,
the Angel looked at me and said, "The Eve of Vigilance,
Cliff, not the Eve of Destruction."
In a whirr, it rose, the sun glinting
off its feathers, casting golden sparks in the clear blue sky,
gleaming as it swirled around the Sentinels of Vigilance standing
vigil over Ground Zero, then it disappeared into the bright
Go To September
9 --The Facade Of Terrorism
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