“There have been rumors of wars and wars that have been; the meaning of life has been lost in the wind ”- less famous but arguably more devastating lines from Bob Dylan than when he asked for the blown answers of civil rights.
Last week, the 20th anniversary of September 11 when 2,996 people lost their lives, and the moment in Saigon in August when the helicopters left Kabul after 2,448 American deaths, leaving so many friends behind and in danger, have called the Dylan in me to try to make psychic sense of such unmitigated but unrelated catastrophes.
Let’s go back 20 years before September 11. In 1981, while searching along the Thai-Laotian border for evidence of biochemical weapons dropped on the Hmong under the name of “yellow rain” – probably supplied by the Soviets to test the hill tribes who had helped us in our not-so-secret war – my ABC News colleague Bill Redeker was in Afghanistan, where the Soviet army was most certainly waging a vicious but ultimately unsuccessful campaign. At least 3,000 Afghans were killed by nerve agents in what declassified CIA documents later recorded as 43 Soviet gas attacks.
When we resumed after 9/11 where the Soviets left off, we dedicated ourselves to 20 years before the mast. Lest we repeat Santayana, let us ask ourselves if our belief that we can do better is justified by recent history.
Fast forward to 2021, when the long march of 9/11 through the criminal madness of the Iraq war and the assassination of Osama bin Laden 10 years ago until the Vietnamese redox of withdrawal from Afghanistan, with desperate humans falling to death from C -17s, revealed that we seem to be learning nothing. Military intelligence had no scenario for a 10-day Kabul eclipse. After our longest war, what did they know? No wonder given that our airports are putting lipstick on the security theater, that Twitter-named Gator-Stater Ron DeathSantis bans warrant masks, that south of the Delta we are in a losing battle of advance with Delta, and they tap Treme.
With Roger Federer set for career-ending knee surgery, it really feels like the end of days. The next time the fire consumes the West, there is smoke on the waters that inexorably rises and the whisperers in the chamber are winning Grammies. It is not enough to deplore the state of affairs. We need a way away from dystopia. We won’t find it in Facebook’s algorithms. Or Arizona re-auditing the election until the chads come together so that we are not left alone. Somewhere in the last nine yards of the Garden State, the Clown Prince is waiting to roll the stone or at least grill the cheese on the burgers again. To refresh us, there is CBD in the water and THC in the candy. I am high with a little help from my friends while waiting for the Pavlovian solution from Amazon. Deliver me.
Somewhere in this carpet of years that wrapped around me, I turned gray, my parts began to separate, colleagues went to rest in peace, but Leonard Cohen’s crack in everything began to let in the light. Closer to the end than the beginning, I savor each sandwich, take time for friends, not regret the missed office days, stick to my spouse like gorilla glue, put myself on the ground with the big-pup whenever I have the chance, dreaming of hotels, beaches and splendid cities unmasked, holy places and people with the celebration of the daily wonder of life, not yet on the other side of the sea Earth. Don’t count the candles, keep blowing on them.
In the throes of the Vietnam era, we thought we were going to shake without stirring the culture. We had bell blues and flowers in our hair, we had the music, we wanted the world and we wanted it now. The decade has left Me bleeding. We have abandoned society to bet on ourselves. By the time the coke punctured her last septum and the disco drum machines rusted to grunge, we had a serial womanizer in power and fundamentalist madness waving its flag. Shortly after, September 11 caught us sleeping because we thought we were the exception. No war in living memory had reached our shores. We would certainly show these Soviets how to build a nation.
We don’t have to ask ourselves “How is this working for you?” We start what we can’t finish, we legislate motherhood in Texas and snatch the guns out of our cold, dead hands. Despite everything, the Cuomos who kiss can no longer stand in the way. There is something in the air. Of course, it’s a Manichean heavyweight fight with the forces of regression and ignorance. Our masks are our metaphor. The best angels of our nature are waiting behind the scenes. When we are free to inspire again we will not be much improved, but we will have another fragile chance. It starts here, not there. You don’t need a meteorologist. Everyone knows it’s windy.
Dalton Delan can be followed on Twitter @UnspinRoom. He has won Emmy, Peabody and duPont-Columbia awards for his work as a television producer.