It was the following March, a little more than 6 months after the attacks. I was a crisp but clear day I was at the airport, planeside for a trip to Portland, Oregon. Word came over the radio that there was a security issue on the jetbridge that would result in a delay.
Upstairs on the jetbridge I found the flight crew trying to calm a near hysterical woman. She was demanding that something be done about a suspicious character she’d spied at the gate who was now seated at the back of the plane. Corporate security and the police arrived a moment later. The woman was adamant.
“He was chanting something,” she said, ‘rocking back and forth, and then he folded up something and stuffed it into his pocket. I couldn’t tell what he was chanting exactly, but it sound like a Muslim prayer.”
The decision was made to hold the plane, while the crew went back and asked the suspicious chanting character to step out of the plane.
About a minute later a small balding man, who reminded me of the George character from Seinfeld, appeared in the door, taken aback by all the commotion. As he passed the woman she glared at him with all the disdain and accusation she could muster, sneering that “yep, he’s the one.”
Quickly surrounded by security, the police and crew the sheepish and thoroughly embarrassed little man scratched his bald head and stammered out a quick explanation.
“I wasn’t chanting,” he said, opening some rolled up pages. “I’m a music teacher at the university of Portland. I was going over a lesson plan; Mozart.”
“We have a report that you folded up something and stuffed it into your pocket?” asked the security person. “What was that?”
His face flushing bright red, he drew a small cap from his pocket and unfolded it, running a hand across his forehead. “I, I have a window seat and I sunburn easily.”
As he returned to his seat the poor fellow offered heartfelt apologies to every person on that plane. The woman, undaunted, sneered and told the crew before returning to her seat, “Well he ought to know what he was doing looked suspicious. next time maybe he’ll think about it. Just can’t be too careful.”
The crew, cops, security and I all exchanged obvious looks that bespoke the character of the nation post-September 11. Between a hand full of hysterics and a number of opportunists, the rest of us were robbed of a rational non-dysfunctional response to the attacks and the course the nation might have taken afterwards. Worse, the opportunists used the hysterics like puppets to foment chaos and confusion while they ransacked the country. Dissent was met with derision,accusations of being anti-American or worse. When dissent drew support a new terror threat seemed conveniently to arise. The dead from that terrible September day were all but dragged from their graves and used to confuse us all the more, just as the wounded and dead troops were used.
To be sure there were threats, but in being that hysterical person on the plane while not securing the country from lunacy and opportunists, did we cause greater damage to our national soul than the September attacks could ever have hoped to accomplish on their own? The answer and true damge to the nation still remain to be seen and sorted out.