INFLECTION POINTS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Inflection points –  events that not only change the course of  history but our collective psyche as well.  For many of us the first such event was the Kennedy assassination.  Prior to November 22, 1963, we were a nation energized by a young President with fresh ideas and plans – plans that were to be carried out by those “born of a new generation”.  When JFK was cut down it was shocking and unnerving.   And, one could argue, changed who we are.  There is a much-quoted conversation that took place after the assassination between journalist Mary McGrory and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor.  She lamented, “We’ll never laugh again.” He replied: “Mary, we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.” Many hopes and dreams died that day, as well as our collective feeling of security and our way of life.  As some sociologists have noted, November 22, 1963 was the end of the Fifties.

The assassination changed us in ways we could not have predicted at the time.  After that, Americans increasingly distrusted the Federal government (particularly after publication of the Warren Report) and yet, ironically, it also precipitated the largest expansion of government into our everyday lives.  We became embroiled in a war that many argue Kennedy would not have supported and our culture was flush with sex, drugs and a whole lot of anger.  Of course, there were good changes as well – civil rights and the women’s movement to name two – but certainly the innocence of the prior decade was gone forever.  It also marked the rise of television over newspapers.  Everyone was glued to black and white screens, watching events unfold for three days.  And why not?  It was compelling and the only way to stay abreast of changing events.  For me, I remember watching Lee Harvey Oswald being escorted down that fateful corridor in the Dallas police station when Jack Ruby shot him.  The experience of seeing someone killed in real time was jarring and disturbing.  Millions of people experienced that same shock.  Coupled with the assassination, how could we not be affected going forward?

The next time I saw anyone murdered was sixteen years ago today – September 11, 2001.  I flipped on CNBC that morning while getting ready for work.  The first plane had already hit Tower One and the hosts were speculating that it was a freak accident.  They mused about whether it would have an affect on the stock market since so many trading firms were in that building.  Then the unimaginable happened – the second plane hit.  I watched it in horror; this time it wasn’t one person I saw killed, but thousands.  Thanks to the 24 hour news cycle we were all witness to  explosions and fire and falling bodies over and over again for weeks.  I’m not sure we yet fully understand the toll that it took on us. Surely our national mindset was altered after watching all of the carnage and grief.  A grief that I believe is still evident after all these years.

To this day many of us tear up when recalling the image of the Twin Towers collapsing.  It remains hard to think about the people who perished that day – people who left home for work on a bright, blue-sky Tuesday morning and never returned.  The very notion of that was – is – frightening and causes us, once again, to question how secure we really are.  The fear of an imminent terror attack began impacting our everyday lives that day.  Suddenly we had to remove our shoes at the airport and limit the amount of shampoo we carry on a plane.   Socially, it brought on a lot of change too.  For the first few months after 9/11 it seemed we were able to put our differences aside, but that fraternity soon dissipated and has now devolved to a point where divisiveness rules the day .   In many ways, it has been the 60’s all over again with an extra dose of anger thrown in.

Which brings me to the unintended consequences of 9/11.  At some level we live with fear on a daily basis – fear that it could happen again to us or someone we love.  We  witness repeated terrorist attacks carried out all over the world that target ordinary people doing ordinary things.  I believe that the discord in our society is, in part, a manifestation of that fear.  I hope at some point we can recapture the unity we had in the aftermath of 9/11 and once again pull together.  Hurricane Harvey, as devastating and heart-breaking as it’s been, has shown me that people really can come together when fellow citizens are in need.  Sandra Bullock put it best when she Tweeted:  “There are no politics in 8 feet of water.  There are human beings in 8 feet of water.”  Amen.  Maybe this is a new beginning.  A new inflection point that causes us to remember that more often than not, most of the time we’re all just human beings in 8 feet of water.

How Long Can We Do This?

by Bob Sparrow

masthead_4_copy.png   While Suzanne was enjoying the cooler environs of Nipomo and I was trying to sneak into Russia, this past August marked a small blog milestone – our 4-year anniversary. Those of you who have been with us for the entire ride may remember that our blog started in August 2011 – we certainly don’t remember back that far! Initially it was a way to use social media to drive visitors to our ill-fated tribute poem writing business, Red Posey. The blog was then entitled Morning News in Verse and we would follow a USA Today newspaper format by writing four rhyming stanzas about topical news – one stanza each about Headlines, Business, Sports and Entertainment. Suzanne and I would alternate publishing a poem EVERYDAY!   That everyday thing lasted for about two months, when we realized that it was occupying way too much of our life – like all of it; so we cut back to twice a week. Every once in a while we would deviate from the poetic format, as deviates are wont to do, and write prose about various subjects. An example of this occurred in September of 2011, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, when Suzanne wrote a moving piece entitled, Small Moments – A 9/11 Tribute, World Trade Center 9/11/01which received a large number of hits and many great comments – it is still to this day, probably the most visited blog in our archives. We eventually noticed that our number of blog hits and comments would increase when we scrapped the iambic pentameter and just wrote prose, not like pros, but prose nonetheless. While we immediately noticed the increase in interest when we scraped the poetry format, it took us until March of the next year to officially change our content and format to what it is currently. And since we weren’t rhyming any more we changed our name – not to Morning News Without Verse, but to ‘From A Bird’s Eye View’, a name borrowed from a newspaper column our mother wrote for the Novato Advance back when our dad was owner, editor and publisher of that paper in the 1940 and 50s.

We continued to post a blog twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, until July 2012. Then, either sensing that we were running out of ideas or audience, or both, we switched to our current schedule of every Monday morning. Whether the deadline was everyday, twice a week or once a week, I am happy to report that we have not missed a scheduled posting since starting this back in August 2011; I guess that’s due in part to our father’s newspaper blood coursing through our veins, where missing a deadline just isn’t an option.

Novato Advance

Dad & Mom in front of the Novato Advance

Over these past four years we have published over 300 blogs, which have generated over 25,000 ‘views’ and nearly 1,000 comments (A special thank you to those who comment and let us know that our words don’t just fly off into cyber space). Our biggest day came last December when 388 people clicked on Suzanne’s ‘A TRIBUTE TO MY FIRST BEST FRIEND’ about her friend Leslie Sherman.  And if you Google ‘From a Bird’s Eye View blog’, you will find about 530 results over 12 pages – we are fortunate enough to be found . . . on the first page!!!

I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of remarkable places and meet a number of interesting people; and I am thankful for staying awake in English class long enough to understand how to put a sentence together without dangling a modifier . . . most of the time. But the best part of all this is working with my sister, Suzanne. While our styles are a bit different, we enjoy reading and editing each other’s posts prior to publishing (OK, she edits mine a whole lot more than I edit hers!), discussing subject matter, travel schedules and just plain catching up with each other on a much more regular basis than before we started writing together.

So as we try to avoid breaking our arms from patting ourselves on the back, we’d mostly like to thank you loyal ‘bird watchers’ for tuning in. As you know, we have written about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime (mostly me the ridiculous and Suzanne the sublime), so thank you for tolerating the expression of our thoughts, opinions and experiences.

How long can we do this? As long as you keep reading, we’ll keep writing.

Suz-Bob

Thank you!!

 

“Is Stephanie Alright?” – A 9/11 Experience

Sunday, September 11, 2011                                                                        By Bob Sparrow

     I was awakened by a phone call at around 6:20 a.m. on September 11, 2001.  It was my mother-in-law from Minnesota; she asked, “Is Stephanie alright?”  I said something like, “I guess so, why?”  She said, “Turn on the TV, there’s been a bombing in New York.”  My heart sank.  My daughter, Stephanie was living in New York for the past several years; she had recently graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and was pursuing a Broadway career.

     After turning on the TV and trying to comprehend what was happening, I immediately tried to call Stephanie on her cell phone.  Of course, there was no cell phone service available in New York at that time.  I called her apartment several times and finally got through and was able to talk with her roommate.  She told me that Stephanie had gone into Manhattan that morning for an acting class, but assured me not to worry, that the class was in ‘mid-town’, not ‘down town’ where the bombing had taken place.  I wasn’t assured.  All kinds of scenarios raced through my head placing Stephanie ‘down town’.  As it turned out, she was indeed on a subway to her class in Greenwich Village, which is ‘down town’!

    I continued to call Stephanie’s cell phone even though I realized there was little to no hope of getting through – I just had to do something!  I called her roommate about every 20-30 minutes to ask if she’d heard from her.  She had not.  I was experiencing this American tragedy in a very personal way.  While I was shocked at what I was hearing and watching on television, my overriding concerns were not about who did this to us and why, but rather where is my daughter and is she alright?

     Five agonizingly long hours pass; at 11:30 our phone finally rings.  At that time we didn’t have ‘Caller ID’, so we didn’t know if it was Stephanie or someone calling us to tell us some news we didn’t want to hear.  When that familiar, though audibly shaken, voice came on the phone and said, “Hi Dad, I’m OK”, I cried and found something to be happy about on that tragic day.  She later related her experience to me.  She was on a subway heading to Greenwich Village that morning, but the subway stopped prior to getting there and she was stuck underground for about a half an hour before it came to a station and she got out.  She came up from the subway and saw people standing in the middle of the street staring at the towers of the World Trade Center which were engulfed in smoke.  Soon after she joined them she saw the first (north) tower collapse.  She hurried over to where her acting class was meeting and ended up sitting with the class for several hours, listening to the news and trying to figure out what was going on.  She then decided to try to get home.  She was fortunate enough to find a cab that would take her only as far as mid-town, where she got out and went to Houston’s, the restaurant where she worked, looking for a familiar face, but found that it was closed.  An eerie feeling pervaded mid-town, but it had not turned to panic.  She was determined to get back to her apartment in Queens, but with no public transportation operating, she joined the throngs of people walking out of Manhattan across the Queensboro Bridge.  On her way home she saw thousands of people already queuing up to give blood.

     She was understandably shaken by her proximity to this horrific event, and when she came home to California for Christmas three months later, she decided to stay.  She has returned to New York several times over the last ten years and enjoys all that the ‘Big Apple’ has to offer, but will never forget that day ten years ago when she witnessed history.

SMALL MOMENTS – A 9/11 TRIBUTE

Saturday, September 10, 2011

by Suzanne Watson

Her message was my wake-up call.  She inspired me and changed my life forever.  And I never met her.

Melissa Harrington Hughes died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  She didn’t work there; she was on a business trip for her San Francisco-based technology firm. She was an extremely accomplished 31 year old, who had traveled the world and had recently married her sweetheart, Sean Hughes.

Many people remember her, and him, for the harrowing telephone message that she left him minutes after the building was struck by the plane.  In that message, she said, “Sean, it’s me. I just wanted to let you know I love you and I am stuck in this building in New York. A plane hit or a bomb went off – we don’t know, but there’s a lot of smoke and I just wanted you to know I loved you.”

The first time I heard Melissa’s voicemail, Sean was being interviewed by Chris Jansing on MSNBC.  Ms. Jansing completely broke down upon hearing it.  Clearly, Melissa’s final words resonated with a lot of people.  The internet site dedicated to Melissa filled with posts from people who were touched by her story.  I was among them. Somehow, with all of the tragedy of that day, her story stuck with me above all of the others.  But why?

Partly, I think in some ways I could relate to her.  I was working for a large financial institution at the time and had spent all of my life, and most of my career, working in San Francisco.  One of my positions required that I visit our businesses in New York in the Trade Center, so I had also taken business trips to the towers.

When the buildings collapsed I thought about all of the people that worked for my company.  We lost three employees that day, but I didn’t know any of them.  She was the one that stood out for me.  Her beautiful wedding picture taken up in Napa, close to where I grew up, became seared in my brain as it was shown repeatedly over the next several days.  But it was more than the pictures; it was her message.

In her voice I could sense so many of her emotions: fear, panic, bewilderment.  But mostly, in her final minutes on earth, she wanted Sean to know that she loved him.  I thought about her, and all of the people that died that day, who went off to work as they normally did.  Kissing a spouse or child good-bye, grabbing a cup of coffee, making plans for the weekend.  And none of them came home.  Plans and hopes and dreams were gone in an instant.  Sean Hughes said that he and Melissa were excited about their future and talked about all the things that newlyweds do: moving to a new home, getting a dog, having children.

Her final words to Sean started me thinking about my own life.  My husband had taken early retirement in 1996.  He wanted to travel, spend time with our new grandson, and enjoy time with friends.  I had wanted to continue working.  But I kept thinking about Melissa’s message.  What if that had been me?  Is that how I would want my life to end, without ever having enjoyed what my husband and I had worked so hard to build?

The weeks following September 11 were frightening and incredibly busy for me.  My division of the company had locations throughout the United States and for weeks after the twin towers fell we received bomb threats in major cities. I had an office on the top floor of our Los Angeles headquarters and I jumped every time I  heard a plane or helicopter go by.  After a month or so, I began to feel like this would all pass and that life would get back to “normal”.   But then I thought about Melissa.  Life doesn’t get scripted.  Although the odds of me being killed in a terrorist attack might be low, there were still no guarantees that I could escape a car accident or a terminal illness.

So in the first week of November, when all of the initial frenzy had died down, I told my boss that I wanted to resign.  We negotiated that I would stay until March 1, which I did.  I have never regretted that decision and would not trade all of the memories and experiences I’ve had since then for any amount of compensation I gave up.

Judith Viorst once wrote that it is the small moments in life that make it rich.   Melissa made me realize that I needed to grab the small moments while I could; that sitting with my husband every morning, sipping coffee and watching the news, is a gift.

So to Melissa Harrington Hughes: thank you.  Someday I hope to get back to the new trade center memorial where I can touch the steel engraving of your name.  And in the hollows of those letters, we will finally be connected.