Humorist Dave Barry tried to gut out his column on 9/11/2001. A guy who has made international prestige out of his humor was aching through his mind straight onto the keys of his computer.
Like Dave Barry, and everyone else, I was thoroughly exhausted late into the night on 9/11. I was the assistant editor at my college's paper, and even as student journalists, we poured ourselves into each story we could find with almost a sense of fury. It wasn't so much that we knew this was going to be, by far, the biggest edition any of us (hopefully) would ever work on, but it was a way to simply not stop and think.
I noticed our Tribune Media Services wire had Barry's column and I stopped to read it. I slowed down, and was able to really see, from a weirder perspective, how far reaching the evil that dominated that day had and would spread.
I remember one part of it in particular. He wrote, "I am not writing a funny column today. I don't want to write one, and you don't want to read one." It was the first time in my sheltered, 20-year-old life that I fully realized why the word "tragedy" is used sparingly. From that point on, I've defined the right times and the wrong times to use that word in print; when it's the only word I couldn't think of to describe the situation.
I used it in jest to describe the Cleveland Browns' draft choices from 1999 through 2003, but reading Barry's column that morning, it was like the one word he couldn't find.
It's only been six years and even these columns are tired. I've tried each year to write something along these lines, but I've never been able to. This is mostly because it's hard to relate to the person I was when I woke up that morning. I remember the details vividly, like waking up to dead-silence on the hard rock station in Fargo, N.D. Instead of the profane ramblings of the local shock jocks, I was getting a spattering of "it's all over the wire now," and "they hit it. They flew a plane into it."
It affected my personality more than my memory. Much like the effect Barry's column had on me, the only word to describe it was the only word they couldn't find at the moment. Tragedy.
Putting aside international conflict and patriotism and any other ingredient that only gets used in extremely complicated situations, perhaps it's my pessimism that says the only pure way to define person from person in regards to 9/11 is the definition of the word "tragedy," and which side of the line that person stands.
Was 9/11 a tragedy, or was it a triumph? Take a quick stroll around the Internet and Cable news right now, people are celebrating what is generally accepted as the most audacious act of hatred ever witnessed on our soil.
I'm clearly on the "tragedy" side of the line. What's important for us, even more than preaching forgiveness, or harboring feelings of vengeance, is how we apply our definitions of words when their meanings for us change.
Remembering those feelings of confusion, loss, anger and dizzy haziness, Barry couldn't do it that morning. I haven't been able to write this column in the last five anniversaries. Maybe defining it is a little easier today, thanks to the horrific accident of Bills tight end Kevin Everett.
This past Sunday, I wasn't thinking about 9/11. I thought about Everett, and how honorable I thought it was that, when he was briefly taken off sedation that night, the one piece of information he expressed wasn't about his condition, or about how the Bills finished that game. He didn't want his wife or mother to worry.
The surge of bittersweet emotion that coarsed through me was similar to when seeing the firefighters, police officer and otherwise heroic individuals who did anything they could to save anyone - just any one single person - to try to salvage some honor out of the cowardice that cost the lives of so many innocent people.
All they could think about was someone else. All Everett thought of was two other people.
It's not that the parallels between Everett and the sixth anniversary mesh perfectly, but that's exactly why they are so beautiful, and impossible to ignore.
As I glanced around a few web sites and message boards trying to not write this column, and instead, push it all away again by finding something interesting to talk about in regards to the Steelers, I saw a poster on FanNation start one of the site's trademark Throwdowns (a competition that pits members against each other in a Lincoln-Douglass-style debate about a topic of their choosing) that simply said, "Everett is moving his arms and legs! Just wanted to get that great news out."
Everett, a 25-year-old with two catches in his one year-plus-one-game career, suffered the ultimate sobering malady for a professional athlete: paralysis. The bitter reality of the game we hold so dear is that tragedy can be defined here as well. We've seen athletes senselessly gunned down, killed on the field, track, court and ring, but it's always just seemed so much more brutal to me to see an athlete not only lose their super-powers of athletic ability, but have to watch the world while not being able to walk.
A weaker person in a weaker moment would consider death a better alternative.
But for him, for his wife, for his mother, he has hope tonight. It was 24 hours ago Chris Mortenson was reporting Everett had a "catastrophic" spinal cord injury. Six years ago, our country was starting a rocky trip into new territory; unknown vulnerability.
The fact Everett may walk again, and that news was delivered today almost seems to settle that bleak picture and replace it with definitions of the word "hope" and the word "hero."
Hope is knowing something of equal positive emotion will eventually overcome the negative emotion.
Heroism is someone who doesn't acknowledge concern with one's self, but rather, how the condition of one's self affects others.
We are saying God Bless America, and rightly so. I'm going to add a "God Bless Kevin Everett."
You can send your best wishes to Kevin through the Bills at: