Six Degrees of 9.11
Note: It’s not just me. It’s you. It’s you and most everyone you know and have known and don’t know. How did your timeline change? This is not an Off Topic from Japan, India, China essay. For me they’re all intertwined. Certainly over the past 10 years.
The 2001 Osaka conference was to cover several days during the third week of September. The horrors of September 11 canceled the conference that year. But we had our tickets and had people to see . . . As we had a few extra days, what with no conference going on at the Hotel New Otani, I decided to cut short our time in Osaka and head over to nearby Kyoto earlier than I had originally planned. . . . From the story, “Auction.”
. . .
Six Degrees of Separation
Many, if not most of you are familiar with the “Six Degrees of Separation” concept. And “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” parlour game (as if we still had parlours or played games in them). Of course the crimes, horrors, pain and heroism of 9/11 were no game. But when combined with the Six Degrees notion, it does provide a mental exercise, even and emotional one, for considering one’s place in the world and against the backdrop of world events. In this case, a tragic one.
In law, I’m a lawyer, by the way, there’s this doctrine, a way of evaluating a chain of events to determine causality — and, often, liability or the absence thereof. It’s called the ” ‘But For’ Test.” But for this event would that event have, or not have, happened? But for the mechanic’s incompetence would the car’s headgasket not have blown? But for the battlefield-spawned PTSD would that returning soldier have committed that crime, wholly at odds with his pre-deployment personality? We’re talking “chain of events” and determining where the first, or significant, or causal, link lies. But for . . .
Not the “Butterfly Effect”
Please note that what I’m talking about here is the opposite of the so-called “Butterfly Effect.” The Butterfly Effect contends that a seemingly insignificant event can trip thousands, or millions, of tiny levers (figuratively speaking), with cause-and-effect increasing in its significance, as each domino knocking down the slightly larger next one — apologies for mixing metaphors. The Effect’s namesake comes from the speculation that a butterfly flapping its wings in China could, eventually, cause a hurricane to form in the Atlantic. In the present case, though, I’m talking about where man-made cataclysms erupting up and down the East Coast of the U.S. echo- and ripple-out around North America, and eventually around the world, to influence, to change, individuals’ lives in ways unknowable on that day of destruction. We’re talking about how a person’s life, a life seemingly unrelated to 9.11 — other than relating to the sadness, anger, anxiety and shock of watching events unfold on their television that day — can, after days or weeks, be changed and set on a new course owing to what happened on September 11, 2001, in New York, in Pennsylvania, in Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. It happened to me. I would wager that it happened to many of you, too. Alternate universes, alternate realities, became reality because of 9/11. But for . . .
Six Degrees of 9/11
I’ve developed a Six Degrees of 9/11. A Zero-to-6, spiraling-outward list, matrix, table, chart, a conceit of sorts. Anyone else undertaking this task would arrange things differently, I’m sure. Of course this is all a fiction of sorts — not a fiction of influence or how chains of events occur, but a fiction of categorical discernment and neat, bright lines between the ripples of time and place and events. There are many shades of gray and the ripples overlap in incredibly intricate ways. Between Degrees 1 and 2, or 3 and 5, situational fluidity is more, well, elaborate, even elegant, than neat 1, 2, 3, 4. . . “boxes.” But it’s a convenient way to understand things in a basic way, so we humans do that. Lists and flow-charts assist us in defining amorphous and ethereal things.
The Question to You
So I put this question to you: what is your Degree of Separation from the Events of September 11, 2001? I find myself at Degree 3. It’s neither “good” nor “bad.” It is what it is. I wrote a story about it a little over a year ago. The story’s actually about many things and the theme is not about 9/11. However, 9/11 is embedded in the story as the catalyst that put my life (and those around me) on one road when, but for 9/11, it would have gone down another road. Perhaps, just perhaps, where I’m sitting now, both literally and figuratively, is near to where I would be sitting anyway. That’s something I’ll never know. What about you? Did 9/11 change your life directly, indirectly, to this or that degree? After you reflect on it for a moment, after you’ve taken a look at the Degrees of Separation I set out below, maybe you’ll find that there was no great change or influence in your life, that your path now is pretty much the same as it would have been. Or not. But for . . .
Six Degrees of 9/11
Zero. No degree of separation: those who died, were injured or traumatized by being in the planes, the Towers, the Pentagon.
1st. Family, fiances, close friends or colleagues of those killed, injured or traumatized.
2nd. Those whose lives were directly changed by or from the attacks, whether politicians, business persons, soldiers (or those who would become soldiers), multitudes in Iraq, killed or maimed during the war — thousands of soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of civilians.
3rd. Those whose lives wound-up going down a different road owing to a change of circumstances directly traceable back to 9/11, either by their relationship to a 2nd Degree person, or by another event — change in travel plans, change in schedule, etc. — putting their life on different path. This was and is my Degree of Separation. See the story, “Auction,” excerpted at the beginning of this piece.
4th. Those whose lives changed or were influenced by their direct relationship to a person or persons in the 3rd Degree.
5th. Those whose lives changed or were influenced by their indirect relationship to a person or persons in the 3rd Degree.
6th. Only a tenuous, very indirect relationship or influence, but nevertheless traceable back, through the chain of causation, to 9/11.
. . .
There are so many people I’ve met whom I would not have met, or would have only met in passing, but for the events of that tragic day. That goes for millions of people around the world. The timelines our lives were on were diverted onto different tracks. So the question is, and will remain, “What have I so far made of this different journey and what will I make of it in the days, months and years to come?” Assuming I have days, or months, or years to make it worth while. That’s not meant to be maudlin. On the contrary, it’s meant to remind me, to remind you the reader, of the preciousness of the moment. Ichi-go Ichi-e. . .