I’ve been debating whether or not to write something about September 11th.
I’m so conflicted.
A part of me wants to write something sympathetic, deep, encouraging. A part of me wants to write about the horror of seeing the news reels for the first time. The part of me that struggled and bucked up against the realization that this was real, that those were real people, that this wasn’t part of a Tom Clancy novel. This was America, and that was terrorism. Part of me wants to write about what it was like to stay up late at night with my head on my knees just wondering. Wondering how many lives would be destroyed, would never be the same. Wondering if the people with their feet on the pavement around Ground Zero were being good and responsible. Wondering if in three months, or six months, or a year, if anyone would still care so deeply, be so willing to give- or if at some point the victims would simply be told, “aren’t you over that yet?”
I want to write about my good friend who lived outside Manhattan, and how she called me, crying, to say she was okay. She was okay, but there were friends she couldn’t find. She was okay, but she knew one girl who’d wandered around for twelve hours, aimlessly, from store to restaurant to store to restaurant, agitated, unaware of the time passing. Her friend had wandered around asking, “do you know my brother?” He was dead. She would never find him. So many people had this sudden psychotic break, they couldn’t connect to reality anymore. Everyone was so worried. No, not just worried. They were terrified.
I want to write about how awful it was, how awful it still is for so many people.
But I also want to challenge. I want to be just the slightest bit cruel, just cruel enough to wake people out of their stupor of memory, their dregs of grief. I want to ask people if they have ever considered why it is that September Eleventh struck us so deeply. I want to ask if they’ve considered how shocking, how unexpected it was. If they’ve noticed that in our minds the grief is so exagerrated because we’ve nothing to compare it to. This is our one and only- and thank God for that.
But I wonder, I have to wonder, if anyone is considering how that grief would change if death were constant for us. Not that I would wish for that, not in a million years- but imagine that girl wandering around Manhattan, aimlessly, asking if anyone had seen her brother. Imagine if instead she were a girl in Iraq- and if her brother had been killed years ago. But every day she hears the car bombs and she relives his death, again and again. Unable to reintegrate herself into normalcy. Unable to reaccept the fact that everyday life is bearable. Unable to block out the pain and learn to cope. Unable to go back to that basic assumption, that assumption that comes with such ease to Americans, that assumption that we are all safe.
A girl who is raped loses the assumption of safety immediately. She must go throughout her life retraining herself to accept her own safety. It’s a long process. Because you and I, we go to the grocery store and don’t contemplate danger. We assume we are safe. We get the mail assuming we are safe. We go out to eat assuming we are safe. We jog around the neighborhood assuming we are safe. And sometimes, someone isn’t safe. They are attacked, and they lose that assumption, and it makes daily life incredibly hard until they can rewire that part of their brain that screams “DANGER!”
After 9/11 America collectively lost it’s assumption of safety. And over the years we’ve reintegrated ourselves. We no longer panic that the color code has reached orange. We no longer hold our breath when boarding airplanes. Life continues.
But elsewhere in the world terror is a part of life. The assumption of safety cannot be reintigrated. Go to buy groceries, you may die. Check your mail, you may die. Jog around the block, you may die. Somewhere in the world there is a girl, wandering from store to restaurant to store, asking if anyone has seen her brother. She doesn’t know how much time has passed. She can’t make the day end.
She may only be in my imagination, but she breaks my heart.
I would say “I don’t know what to write about”, but the process of pressing digits to keys has taken care of that problem.
Now the problem is waking up tomorrow morning, and not feeling so damn guilty just because I’m safe.