I tried to write earlier, but couldn’t focus through the mononucleosis haze. So I watched the 2002 Tom Cruise movie Minority Report instead. It’s new on Netflix this month. Hadn’t seen it since it came out. It’s a science fiction film about a world in which three “precogs” (psychics) can foresee crimes happening before the do, and a special police unit arrests the murderers before they can kill. It’s a movie about free will and prophetic vision.
Before brushing my teeth for bed, I checked the news. More mass death worldwide. More economic devastation — maybe a new Great Depression. The world order cracking apart under the strain. The threat of civil disorder as jobless people wonder how they will eat. The federal government taking on debt that we will never be able to pay, just to keep the country from falling to pieces overnight from the economic collapse.
Will there be wars from this? Probably. The US Navy just fired the captain of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier because someone leaked his letter to his superiors begging them for help in evacuating his sailors from the virus-infected ship. The idea seems to be that the leak compromises national security; the carrier, based in the Pacific, is supposed to project US power and deter China. What happens if China decides to take advantage of America’s military reeling from this virus to go adventuring in the region?
This pandemic will not finally end, most likely, until there is a coronavirus vaccine. Who knows when that will happen? What kind of America will be left when this pandemic recedes?
So: I closed the laptop, then went to brush my teeth. I was thinking about the news I had just read, and the movie I had just seen, then I remembered the story of the torn flag. I’ve told it in this space before, but man, in light of this sudden horror that has overtaken our nation, it really stands out in a different light. Here is a story I’ve pasted in from a blog entry I made a couple of years ago. I’m reading it with new eyes today.
On the morning of September 11, 2002, I walked over to Ground Zero for the solemn observation of the anniversary. I stood on the north side of the hole, at the perimeter, waiting for the service to start. The crowd was behind a fence; none of us had access to the site itself, which was reserved for families and dignitaries. It was important, though, to be there.
Suddenly, at the time when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, a powerful wind descended from the same direction of that plane. It was from Hurricane Gustav, which had come ashore in the Carolinas, and was rolling up the East Coast. Still, I was there, and the timing was very, very weird. It blew a fairly steady 60 mph all morning. A friend who had been watching the services live on TV said that one of the commenters called the wind “Biblical.” If you were down there in that wind, as I was, it seemed apt.
The wind was still blowing later that morning when I went into Trinity Church Wall Street for a memorial service celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At some point during the church service, we could hear a signal from adjacent Ground Zero, indicating that all the names of the dead had been read, and that the ceremony there was ending. Shortly after, the church liturgy ended, and I emerged outside to calm. The winds had stopped. I don’t know when the ceased to blow, but I can tell you it was in the relatively short time between the start and end of the church service.
If I had to bet money, I’d say that the winds stopped blowing when the last names were read at Ground Zero. It was that kind of morning.
Later in the day, I received a call from a friend I had run into at Ground Zero that morning. She was fairly freaked out, and asked me to come over at once. I made my way to her apartment. She led me into her tiny home office, and showed me a small American flag, so old and threadbare that you could see through it, framed and under glass, hanging on her wall. A tear ran through it, almost from top to bottom.
It wasn’t obvious to me what the issue was. Then she told me: she’s had that flag on the wall for years, and it was fine. It was position right across from her desk. She looked at it every day. But that morning — September 11, 2002 — while she was out in the crowd at Ground Zero, something happened to it. It had torn down the middle, even though it was sealed under glass, and nobody had come into her home.
This really did happen. I have lost contact with that friend, but I wonder what she thinks of it today. Both of us are believing Christians, and we could not help seeing it in light of the Biblical account of the tearing of the veil in the Temple when Jesus died on the Cross. That event has multiple meanings in Christian belief, and among them is a prophecy of the ultimate destruction of the Temple itself, which took place at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD. I left my friend’s apartment wondering if the tearing of the flag — assuming that there was symbolic meaning behind it — meant that there was a withdrawal of God’s favor on the US, and that 9/11 was the beginning of our end.
Granted, I have an apocalyptic mindset, and even if I didn’t, it was very easy to think in apocalyptic terms in those days, living so close to Ground Zero. On the other hand, I was also primed to think that 9/11 was going to summon up the strength of our great nation, and goad us to assert ourselves on the world stage. The United States was at that moment the sole hyperpower on the planet. We were at the peak of our strength. We would soon be going to war in the Middle East, that was clear by then. Now, finally, we would set the world to right. I was not eager to believe in portents that cast doubt on that project. I was in those days filled with patriotic righteousness — which is why the tearing of the flag was so eerie, and unwelcome to me.
That’s what I saw on 9/11/2002. Maybe it was just a fluke. Maybe that flag had come apart earlier, and my friend only noticed it on that morning. But: in light of everything that has happened since then — and that continues to happen — that torn flag seems to me like the omen I feared it was at the time.
Maybe it was meaningless. Seems less so today, though. Make of it what you will. I mean, look, the wind was not something magical — it was from Hurricane Erin, far offshore, though it just happened to start blowing at that precise time, and to stop very close to the time that the ritual reading of the names stopped. And my friend, who was visibly distressed when I arrived at her apartment, had either just that afternoon noticed a dramatic tear in a flag that had been ripped for some time, or that flag had somehow fallen apart that morning, even though it was under glass in a sealed frame.
Like I said, make of it what you will. We will never really know if it was a coincidence, or a meaningful coincidence. No question, though, but that the United States has not had a good 21st century — and it just got unimaginably worse.
Question to the room: have you ever had precognition of the future, or witnessed something you consider to have been a portent, a sign of things to come? If so, tell the story.