Thursday, September 1, 2011

9/11: Melissa Dunphy

I still lived in Australia on 9/11. It was about 11PM, and I was at a party with some college friends in Sydney, drinking and having a good time. Suddenly someone rushed into the room with a phone, yelling for us to turn on the television. One of our friends whose parents were diplomats of some kind had alerted him to the news. The party turned immediately into a news gathering collective, with everyone monitoring every type of media available, and some of us on the phone to people in the know. I bolted to the nearest computer with an internet connection and opened ICQ. My best online buddy, who went by the handle Leviathant, lived in York, Pennsylvania, and was available to chat. It was incredibly surreal: because of the satellite delay on the television broadcast, I would get news reports from him on ICQ before they showed up on our TV set. “Oh my god, the tower collapsed,” I yelled out, and everyone crowded around the television to watch it happen a few seconds later. I feel like this went on for hours, but I can’t be sure; it was all a bit of a blur. At some point, I expressed concern for Leviathant, but he was sure he was safe in rural Pennsylvania. Then, of course, we found out about Flight 93. It was terrifying. Much later in the evening, I sat in front of the TV with everyone else in the house, in shock, and I remember crying because I suddenly realized there’d be a war. Right from the beginning I was deeply frightened – not of the terrorists so much, but of how we would react, and how our culture would change in response. The next few days were full of contrasts. I felt and saw such genuine comradeship, a coming-together of humankind. I also witnessed some of the most vile racist polemic, always just under the surface in Australia, bubble up to the surface and exist proudly out in the open.

Five months later, I traveled to New York City and saw Ground Zero with my own eyes. I remember the weight, and the muffled silence. Laughter and speech seemed like a desecration.

The next week, I traveled to Pennsylvania to meet Leviathant, a.k.a. Matt, and the next year, we were married. 9/11 wasn’t directly responsible, of course. But the tragedy seems somehow integral to our early relationship. Maybe in some way it proved to me how much I care about someone, and how short life is.

Melissa Dunphy
Nationally acclaimed award-winning composer Melissa Dunphy (b. 1980 in Brisbane, Australia) has composed in a wide range of styles and mediums, but specializes in theatrical and political vocal music. Her large-scale choral work the Gonzales Cantata was performed at the 2009 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and received rave press and reviews from The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. "What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?" a choral work in support of marriage equality, will be sung in a concert series titled "What do you think I fought for?" by the GRAMMY Award-winning ensemble Chanticleer in 2012. In 2010, "Omaha Beach" won in the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers Composition Competition and has just been released on their latest album, Go Song of Mine.

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