Geek Smithology

September 12, 2005

2001/09/11 + (4*(365d)) + 1d

Filed under: Personal by Nathan @ 1:18 am

Just read the 9/11 anniversary memories of another Canadian over on the Bliss Blog, and while I am not capable of that sort of evocative emotion or eloquence, I’ll twiddle the keys for a bit to eke out a quick memoir of my own. It rambles a bit, and arguably gets off point, but I promise there will be no haikus.

To answer the obligitory (and obvious) question “where were you?”, I was at my desk in my home office in Forest Lawn. For some reason, I decided not to go into work that day. Of course, at the time, “work” consisted of going in to flog the dead horse that was for a tiny paycheque and promises of beaucoup de stock. Despite solid enough business acumen to see that the shares (and the company) were worth nothing, I stuck with it. I loved getting paid for being Just Another Perl Hacker, and we are a dying breed. Sometime in midmorning, as I happily hacked away at Hephaestus[1], the Ront came onto MSN and after the usual pleasantries, I got this:

The Ront: the world trade centre fell

I didn’t know what he meant. I figured maybe it was a stock market crash or some other relatively innocuous event; the events that were transpiring never once crossed my mind. At some point, one of our fellow coworkers got on the horn; he picked up the Ront and they came to my house. As I made some coffee I dimly recalled that the last time Trever had visited my horrid abode of teal shag and orange wood panelling, it had been to watch the Avs win Ray Bourque’s first and only Stanley Cup.

They turned on the TV and it was on almost every channel. So we sat quietly, mostly dumbfounded. There were remarks on how good the coffee was, nervous pitch black humour about not working downtown anymore, and the occasional theory as to what the fuck was going on.

And the unspoken but unbearably heavy “why?”

I watched a retrospective documentary this afternoon: stories of victims and heroes and life and death. And while a part of me applauds the indominable human spirit, another part of me is sickened at how pathetic it is that only tragedy makes people care about each other; how pathetic it is that I am as guilty as anyone.

Am I changed person because of 9/11? Perhaps, in some imperceptible and unconscious way, yes I am. Have I changed how I live my life or how I relate to people because of 9/11? No. And while for a time people agreed that security was important, now all the airport check points are an inconvenience and an annoyance. We live in an impossibly impatient society. Everyone is in a hurry and noone considers the consequences.

A few years ago, a man died while trying to get around a tractor-trailer on an exit ramp. The driver of the semi never saw the car and ran it off the road. The car did a few flips, and the man was probably dead before it stopped rolling. Just within the last couple weeks, a couple of women died while making an illegal u-turn using a service lane.

Whenever this sort of senseless and completely and utterly avoidable death happens, my thoughts are always “What were that person’s last thoughts? What put them in such a rush that they just had to push in that last straw?” And while we can never know the truth, I’d wager that the reasons were mundane: wanting to get home quickly, not wanting to miss the next exit, or maybe just daydreaming.

I don’t think there’s any way to slow down our society. That could only happen if people could find some peace and some serenity, and not have to play the game to get ahead. But there is such drive to get ahead, and such drive to play. I’ve had times where I know for a fact that my family is upset with how many hours I work and how distant I can be in the middle of a project. It’s so easy to space out and think about logical problems – things I can prove correct or incorrect. And my worth to the society as a consumer grows. I get better positions, I get more money, and I keep running on that rat race treadmill.

When all you think about is getting ahead, you forget what’s really important. It’s easy to forget that my son’s laugh while flying a kite is worth a million times more than the most elegant algorithm. It’s easy to forget that holding my wife is worth more than staying late to score a few points with boss only to come home and sleep on the couch so I don’t disturb anyone. It’s easy to forget that my family cares more about whether or not I’m home for supper than whether I’m a Team Lead or a Manager. And even so, money’s tight. I see it as a failure that my wife has to work to help out[2]. And the cycle, the vicious cycle, repeats.

There have been times where burning the candle at both ends wasn’t enough – I had to break it in half and touch the flame to those ends to get a little more light. But I’m getting older, and after an all-nighter it now takes days, not hours, to recover. The truth is, I need to sort some things out before I’m finally forced to decide, once and for all, which is better: to burn out? Or to fade away…

[1] Shopplex’s online website editor that was going to change the face of the Interweb (to be fair it was pretty cool, and was based on code written by the impecable Chris Scott)
[2] Just to make this ABUNDANTLY CLEAR, I’m not some neanderthal ass who doesn’t let his wife work. She would rather stay home with the boys for a few years, but that’s just not possible right now.

2 Responses to “2001/09/11 + (4*(365d)) + 1d”

  1. Jenn says:

    I don’t think that we treat our fellow man (or woman) any better than we did before 9/11. If anything we are just a little more jaded. How many more WTC, tsumani’s, hurricane’s or whatever disaster before we just don’t care anymore? Jaded because we are helpless to do anything about it (except wage war against invented enemies).

    Re the rat race: I hear ya! When the world sucks, work sucks and drains the life out of you, the drudgery of the routine sets in, just remember why you are doing it and look at the kids. It’s all about them.

  2. cynicalman says:

    It’s depressing to think that all we’ve learned by fighting through adversity is that if you can’t win maybe you should get give up earlier to save some pain. $DEITY_OF_CHOICE knows that I’m cynical enough, but maybe not yet beaten down to the right shade of black and blue. Or jade. I’m reminded of a quote from George Orwell…

    If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

    Are we doomed to become worn out and lay it down because we can’t win? Would it be too cynical even for me to squeak out a resigned “yes”?

    Maybe that’s why we have kids – if you didn’t have family, what would you have? Inspiration doesn’t come free.

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