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It’s been almost 8 years since the concert on 9/30/2001 and the memory of driving into Washington DC from Norfolk, VA is still just as vivid in my mind as that warm, balmy day I slid in behind the wheel.
What made the drive so strange was the ease of the trip. Usually the drive up I-95 into DC is white-knuckle harrowing, with everyone doing 10 to 15 miles over the speed limit, and changing lanes and just generally trying to get from one place to another in half the time it actually takes. It was the day before the concert when I drove up, alone, to meet my friends Linda Radel, Mary Cox and Liz Garvin.
Just getting on the road felt surreal. Cars seemed to be crawling and I was thrilled at that. The usual crazies who whizzed in and out of traffic were either home or were driving like they had good sense. It was a pleasant 3 hour drive.
As I got near the Pentagon I looked to see if the charred side of the building where the plane had flown into was visible, but it wasn’t. It felt strange being that near the site of such a horror.
As I drove the 14th St. Bridge everything I remembered about the craziness of the traffic changed. People were driving cautiously and they were smiling if they happened to catch my eye. As I got to the area near the Smithsonian a policeman was stopping traffic and re-directing cars. I was going to be one of the cars that couldn’t go straight, where I wanted to go. As I got to the center of the intersection I stopped and the cop walked over to the car.
“Yes, Mame?” he said as he smiled. “I need to go up 14th St. and I’m afraid I’ll get lost if I take the detour, can’t I just slide up the street?” He told me I couldn’t go past the saw-horses, and asked me where I was going. When I gave him the name of the hotel, he gave me directions that made sense and told me I should have no trouble since the rest of the streets where I was going were not blocked.
No one blew the horn at me, and no one yelled, “Come on, Lady!” The Policeman was helpful and as generous with his time as I’ve ever seen traffic cops in DC, be.
As I drove away I looked in the rear view window and someone else had stopped him. He was resting his arms on the top of the person’s car and talking to the driver in the same calm way he’d talked to me.
When I drove up to the hotel, the bellman had the same relaxed and calming persona. DC always has that similar wonderful, wild, energetic feel as NYC, just slightly toned down. But, this time everyone seemed to moving like a slow motion movie. It was the strangest thing I’d ever experienced, and stranger still because my speed and temperament matched the people in the city exactly.
We were still in shock. That’s the only explanation I found then, and it’s still the only one that makes sense.
We were all more or less feeling our way through life, and had been doing that for the past 18 days. I think the horror that unfolded before our eyes on Sept. 11, had simply rendered us unable to go back to the way we walked, breathed, talked and thought on Sept. 10.
The whole world felt slightly off it’s axis, and that’s the only way I know to explain it. I had actually changed my mind about going to Washington to see Neil about 10 times. Every day I either decided TO go or NOT to go. I was scared nearly beyond recognition of usually too-confident self about travel, yet I couldn’t make a decision to NOT go. I didn’t think I had even one laugh in me, or one dance for a Neil song, or one scream to add to some applause.
As I got to the room and waited to hear from Linda (who was driving down from Philadelphia) I started to find some peace, and some ease. My feet steadied and my heart began to pump quickly, again. I was in a city and Neil was here and the band was here, and Mary was coming down to my room with Liz (who I was yet to meet) and I was just a fan again.
I was starting to feel human again.
Funny, I hadn’t realized just how non-human I’d been feeling.
As you all know, and as I’ve gone on and on about (ad nauseam,) the concert the next night was special. There was the tribute to Vince with CAPTAIN SUNSHINE, the total surprise of YES I WILL and LADY MAGDALENE that all but brought us to our knees, and then HE AIN’T HEAVY, HE’S MY BROTHER that made us all weep or at least tear up, unashamedly. That concert is an entity, all its own. Comfort was needed and comfort was found. The shedding and release of our angst and chaos and pain was something that I think everyone who went to concerts on that tour still ‘feel’ rather than remember.
‘Life’ started to come back on that trip to DC to see Neil and the band and my friends. We realized we wouldn’t live and feel like zombies forever. Part of me felt guilty for feeling life-like again, but the other part of me felt such gratitude for those women and men, lead by Neil who brought laughter and joking and song and clapping and tears of joy to us, again.
I think we really believed that we might not ever feel a sense of fun again. And, if we did, we surely didn’t it expect it to happen just 19 days away from what was the single most horrible thing we’d ever witnessed on a TV set, or heaven forbid seen in person on a NYC street or a DC street, or a field in Pennsylvania.
There have been many concerts that have given me great joy where Neil is concerned, and I’d be flat out lying if I said those one on one moments where I got a hug or a kiss or a few words from him from a concert stage or in a hotel lobby weren’t wondrously special. They were all that and more.
But, the effort he made to get us walking and talking again like real humans when most of the world was still too numb to move, is something I’ll forever credit Neil for doing.
He must have been frightened to get on a plane and fulfill his obligations – but he did. He must have been scared to leave his home and friends and family and go out on tour, not knowing what new horror might be hurling toward us – but he did.
He must have felt as numb and non-human as any of us – yet he put on ‘show’ clothes and make-up, climbed up stairs and walked on stage and stared into an audience of thousands – and simply opened his mouth and let a song fly out.
The effort those simple acts took must have been huge for Neil, yet he made it.
He did it for me, for you, for himself and for all the thousands of zombies just like us, sitting in that venue, just a mile or two away from where crazy people had flown a plane, on purpose, into the Pentagon. And, he kept on doing for the rest of the tour because we all needed songs and laughter and comfort.
I’ll always be grateful to Neil Diamond for giving me courage to stick the key into my Honda’s ignition and drive up I-95 to Washington, DC on September 29th, for the concert the next night.
Jane Massey / August 26, 2009