The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

My Photo
Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

September 27, 2006

The freshness of the wound

Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest idea to watch United 93 so soon before we fly to Europe. But that didn’t cross my mind when I saw it on the Blockbuster shelf last week. I remembered that John had wanted to see it, and that the New Yorker had given it a great review. So I rented it, along with The Squid and the Whale (an excellent movie, by the way).

We watched United 93 last night, and I truly can’t remember ever being as riveted by and entwined in a film. Which is amazing, considering the story is one we all know by heart. The traffic controllers who are shocked to see one of the World Trade Center buildings on fire that morning—brace yourselves, we want to tell them, you haven’t seen anything yet. The passengers on United Flight #93, as brave and resourceful as they are, aren’t going to triumph in the end—although of course, many more people may have died if that plane didn’t go down in a Pennsylvania field. I suppose that’s a sort of triumph.

I thought the film was masterfully done—subtly terrifying, plain and stark, no one actor really standing out, the people on the screen seeming so amazingly ordinary. That was part of the terror, for me—the ordinariness of the people on that flight. They were eminently recognizable. It almost felt like a documentary. I watched it with tears in my eyes and my hand over my mouth, my stomach actually hurting at times, feeling vaguely guilty, somehow—like a voyeur.

Five years have gone by so quickly. Five years ago John and I had been married for almost three months. We sat in our one-bedroom apartment in an old Victorian house in Grand Rapids and watched CNN for three days straight, eyes glued to the television, the skies eerily empty outside our windows. We kept waiting for people to be saved from the wreckage. At work, I visited the Cantor Fitzgerald website, scrolled down the names and photos of the dead. I cried. It seemed so big, the magnitude so difficult to understand. All those people. All those people.

Strange, then, last night, to be standing in my condo in Chicago holding a DVD case, reading the description of a movie dramatizing a piece of that day. How long and how short a five-year span can seem.

I’ve written before about how naïve I can be, how “glass-half-full” I am, how I could have written Anne Frank’s words: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” It always feels like a slap to the face when I’m reminded that this isn’t true. I found myself fascinated by the four hijackers in the film, especially the leader, a young man who looked Westernized, intelligent, soft-spoken, appealing. To sit in the waiting area, surrounded by unknown people he intended to kill. To sit on the plane, knowing what was about to happen. To threaten. To stab. All (or mostly) in the name of religion—religion, something I believe in, something I also hold dear. One of the most compelling moments in the film shows a passenger praying the Our Father, then cuts to this hijacker murmuring a prayer to Allah. Both calling on the God of Abraham, both equally sincere.

I’ve flown many times since September 2001—to New Hampshire and New York, to Philadelphia, Key West, Washington DC, the British Virgin Islands. Paris. And I will fly again, this time to Barcelona. Life has continued and will continue. I’m not sure that I really have a point to this journal entry; I just wanted to write about this. As one reviewer put it, “In the years since 9/11, much of what happened that day has become ingrained in our culture. We have absorbed it. United 93 picks the scab and brings back the freshness of the wound.”



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a difficult one, Amy. I can understand your feeling that you had to record something after viewing the DVD. I'm not planning to see the movie myself but, again, I can understand those who do. Like I say, a difficult one.

John Bailey (

2:09 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home