Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
2005.09.11 : 2001.09.11
"All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope."

"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."

"Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities . . . because it is the quality which guarantees all others."

"Danger - if you meet it promptly and without flinching - you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!"

"Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."

"I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else."

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

"Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer."

"Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."

"We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

"You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else."

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

                 - Winston Churchill

     I returned from a weekend in Bath to a London cool and grey. As pleasant as was the getaway, I couldn't have been happier to be back. I wonder if, as time goes by, I will less and less like to leave the capital.

It was only when I was on the train that I remembered my armband. I'd brought this along, knowing the fourth anniversary of 9/11 fell on the Sunday. I had been living in Germany on 9/11. Walking through the dim streets of Darmstadt, stunned, like everyone else, I remember thinking that I needed some kind of identifier – something that would mark me as American, and in mourning. So I fashioned up a black armband, tied with red, white, and blue bits of ribbon. And I wore it every day until I returned to the U.S. Ever since, I've maintained the tradition of wearing a black armband on the anniversary. I expect I always will.

I hit Paddington Station painlessly enough, caught the Tube to Earl's Court, and spilled gratefully into my welcoming flat. I darted out and bought groceries, whipped myself up a Frozen Fruit Frappè®, and curled up with Julian Barnes. After thusly recovering a bit, I checked the time and realised what I had time for – and what I really needed to do. I dressed, walked down to Gloucester Road Station, and grabbed a bunch of yellow lilies from the flower vendor there. Then I started hoofing it northeast, through Kensington, across Hyde Park, and into Mayfair. I walked with my black armband on my bare left arm, my yellow flowers clutched in my right hand. My destination: Grosvenor Square.

Grosvenor Square is the home of the imposing American Embassy. I'd first stumbled upon it – in fact, had last (and only ever) been there – on my very first visit to London, in 2000. It had been late, and I had been a bit full of beer, and soggily very pleased to see the American flag flying. I'd also been learning, early on, that Mayfair is just about the hardest place in London to find somewhere to take a slash. So I did so in the dark behind a tree, hoping the Marine on guard wouldn't spot me – and would give me a break if he did!

Today, I saw the American flag once again – but at half-mast this time. The sight of that stopped me mid-stride. After a respectful pause, I wandered to the north side of the Square and viewed the much-larger-than-life FDR statue (with a single pigeon on his head). Then to the south side, where to see the memorial to the American pilots who flew and fought with the RAF before America's official entry into WWII. Guys who just decided it was their duty to come over and pitch in. And then, finally, to the East side – to the the September 11 Memorial Garden.

This opened last year, on the 3rd anniversary, and I've been meaning to come by since I first heard of it. No more fitting day than today, I suppose. There were five or six other people there. They were sitting, or standing and reading the cards and notes. There were lots of flowers. And a single flickering candle. You could read the writing on the cards on a number of the bouquets, and it was obvious some had been left by some who had lost loved ones. From the looks on the faces of some of the others there, you could guess that perhaps they had, too.

The memorial takes the form of a curved arboretum, graceful wood and a bit of stone, with planted gardens opposite. The inside of the main structure itself lists the names of the 50-some-odd citizens of the UK who lost their lives on 9/11. Across the top, a large inscription reads "Grief is the Price We Pay for Love". In the stone of the floor of the center, another inscription was today mostly covered by several dozen white roses – with little red, white, and blue ribbons wrapped round the stems. Beneath the inscription of the names was a wreath laid "in memory of the British victims lost on 9/11, from the American people and the American Embassy". On the ground lay a printed extract from Longfellow's "The Building of the Ship":

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'Tis of the wave and not the rock;
'Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee,
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, — are all with thee!

I laid my flowers in a bare spot to the side, and walked on.
  9/11     london     poetry  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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