Friday, September 02, 2011

post 9/11

It was crisp and smoky in Oregon that morning. I was reading to my sixth grade class from our small-town newspaper about how the local Key Club had bought new playground equipment for the Village Green, when Lora, the principal came to my classroom door. She stood quietly for a minute while I finished reading. I set the children on a journal concerning the article we'd just read then I turned to her, smiling, brows upraised.

Lora was grey and trembling as she pulled me by the elbow to join her in the hallway. She closed the door when we were outside the room, which was strange to do in a "responsible-monitoring-of-children" sort of way. She was so intense and terrible-looking that I was suddenly sure that she'd come to tell me that someone in my family was hurt. I took her by one shoulder, saying, "What's going on, for god's sake?" Suddenly, tears were spilling from her eyes, in long quiet rivulets. My chest clenched, my neck went stiff, "What...," I breathed as I pulled my hand away.
"Katie...Katie...soo many people just were killed...some people flew an airplane through a building...I don't know why...but they did it on purpose...soo many people are dead."
"What? Where?!"
"In New York City...just flew an airplane through it and it all...went down with people in it."
"Oh my god. what...why?"
"I just don't know...but they think it was terrorists...I don't know...the most terrible thing..."
Shock, confusion, stumbling through the rest of the day until I saw the newspaper on the break-room table: "Twin Tower Terrorist Attack" and a single, terrible blood-orange explosion in glossy smoothness. I remember now that my eyes went blurry, not from tears, but from shock. The number dead was staggering...a sudden strange thought occurred to me: "Does the Earth actually weigh less now? How would they measure that?" I almost eerie. I hear that happens to people when they are in shock; the sudden urge to giggle when faced with the unthinkable.
As the days went on, the depression of my country was smothering me every day; it was on my chest like some sort of dark thing, perching. That day, that week, that month, the months after were dark.  Each day, was like a sun slowly rising into a deep fog. I remember feeling numb, then disbelieving, then angry, scared and numb again. My husband and I would come home from work and just sit under blankets watching reruns of "I Love Lucy" (which just about every major network was showing in-between updates because the nation was in shock and needed something familiar and light).
We had been talking about getting pregnant at the time, and I was seriously worried about what kind of world I would be bringing a child into. My nation was not safe, and I had seen it in devastatingly slow playbacks and exploded diagrams, the science of it covering the reality of the loss.
When I began to think about the New Yorkers and the terrible visceral pain and terror if it, it made me glad to live in a small town until I heard rumors that the terrorists cells would just as likely bomb small-towns as major cities. I saw a Muslim man once at a restaurant and all I could think about was if he were a terrorist or not, later I felt scared for him because he was being judged as I was: he wasn't the man who flew the airplane, he was eating dinner and smiling with his friends. I wasn't the one who "decided to head on in and get em back" either. I was just teaching school before and having babies afterwards.

an aside:
I love America. No matter how dysfunctional, it is my home. I feel sad when I hear the U.S. being lumped as one whole entity with one kind of personality or just isn't true. America has activists and politicians effectively espousing every kind of ideology, pedagogy, philosophy and agenda that you can think of. We truly are a melting pot of ideas and cultures - which makes us very much like some kind of "Knights of the Round Table meets The Lord of the Flies. America makes many mistakes - so many it makes me sad. But, countries are only run by human beings, not faultless gods. The fact really is, is that many times those who've run my country are bullies. They bluster up like a Prize Rooster, busting in where it isn't any of their business, stirring up hornet's nests.
The office of  President doesn't really hold that much power. While he seems to be completely in charge and responsible for all the decisions, he really is not. It is unfair to blame the president for everything...just as it is unfair to just "blame Americans". There are millions of us here who all believe different things, some of us are to blame, and some of us are not.
:end of aside.

At the time of the attack, many of you will NOT believe this but with all my heart I profess it is true, our little town's population sign said "911." It was quickly re-tabulated and a new sign was made. Whenever I saw that the clock said "9:11", I would literally wait to continue doing whatever I was doing until that minute was off the clock. It was as if that entire minute was somehow tainted. I still feel that way when I notice the time or the license on a car, or a telephone number; Now I just look away. The number feels like it is mocking me.

I never wanted to watch the remake-movies (what a terrible, terrible idea), or the in-depth documentaries about "how the towers fell". {I was so sorrowful over the very first pilot episode of CSI New York, when you find out that the main character's wife died in the attack and he'd kept a balloon that she had blown-up - her last breath, that I couldn't watch it anymore.}
I didn't look it up on the internet to hear the stories or see the pictures...I did NOT want to become desensitized to it. I didn't want it to be a flat picture, or a diagram. I wanted to remember that it was terrible, that it was tragic, that it was scary. It is the same reason why I cannot stand to watch movies about the Holocaust. I feel tense with a painful choke in my throat anytime I've tried to watch a movie like that. The feelings are too intense for me, and in my opinion, it should be. Those terrible things SHOULD feel terrible, because if they did not, we'd just eventually go about doing them all the time. The hope of History is that it informs our future.

Einstein said a wonderful, truthful thing, " The world we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them." We will have to always be evolving and becoming better to solve the problems that were created because of 9-11, and because of the Holocaust, and because of Global Warming and because of a hundred other things. We must get older and gain wisdom before we can fix the bad things we've done in our youth. Yes. It is a true thing. 

My world is no safer now that we ran into that fight, both fists blazing in revenge. In fact, I do not know a family that wasn't affected by the death of a friend or a father, or a wife, or a son (so so so young) in this terrible war. There are many stories like this, but my brother's childhood friend went to war and was killed at the age of 20 - beheaded. Unthinkable.
Why it is not over yet, I do not know. I do not forget what happened in New York, and when I dwell on it for any length, I feel my throat tighten for all the terrible things that have come after it as well. I feel sorrow about it, and yet - yes "and yet" -  I keep living.

 I found out I was pregnant a month after 9-11. My sweet baby was born the next July and I was euphoric and entranced and all those good things. 

And my brother's friend who was killed...his little town made a bronze memorial in his honor showing his gun laid down and his hand outstretched to a little child. His older sister went on with her life with her husband and babies and I've seen her smile since then. It is a piercing pain and loss and an abyss in their hearts, but it is also grabbing life and laying aside the fresh wounded-ness of it so that they CAN keep on going.

We cannot forget the terrible things,  but living with the terribleness consuming us is a drowning death. The only way to really make our world a better place is by filling it up with the good things: having babies and following dreams and learning to crochet and eating freshly steamed clams and letting a kitty sleep on your chest at night and putting together little surprises for your class of Kindergarteners, and making Irish breakfast tea and praying and being grateful and keeping caterpillars and eating ice cream late at night and making love and the end, it really is the mundane world which will save a broken terror-stricken people, and I pray that we all open our eyes to see it.
I do not normally write about such serious things, but for years I've wanted to. I just needed to write down my thoughts I realized it was 10 years later, and I am still in the habit of being fearful of the entire minute of "9:11", and I feel like an elephant is in the room on the whole day of September 11th, wondering who else is thinking about it, but not wanting to discuss it. 10 years is a long time, but then again broken hearts take a long time to heal.


sarah elwell said...

This is so beautiful and so profound and it has touched my heart deeply. I will always remember that morning - we all will, of course.

I am one of the people who says, "America this" and "America that." I am sorry for this, you have reminded me to keep my mind and heart open. I think for many of us it is the same as some Americans saying "Islam this" and "Islam that." It is a symptom of pain, and of fear, but also the reason pain and fear keep going on. I need to stop being part of that cycle. Just now, I removed someone from my FB Friends list because she was worried a truck driver was going to lose his boots, which were on the back of the truck - but then she saw an Obama sticker on his bumper, and she thought, "I hope he loses those boots." Sad :-(

Sorry for such a long comment. Thank you for what you have given us here.

katiebird said...

That is just a terrible thought that lady had - that kind of thing can only leave hurt in her wake. I'm glad for you that you decided not to sit waiting for that ripple to hit you and you got out of the water instead.
Poor Obama. I truly, truly still believe in the HOPE that Obama talked about that made me vote for him. I cried when I realized that at least HERE there was someone DIFFERENT, someone with conviction and heart who wanted to run my country. I also saw him as a kind of Healer who would be doing his part to mend this hurt in the world. I do not know of another president who has so inspired me besides what I read about JFK and Abraham Lincoln, and that is the god's honest truth. I love Obama and will go on loving him. He does his best for us...I pray for more of the same in the years to come.

thank you for what you said about America as well, those are healing words :)

Barefoot from Heaven said...

Thank you for getting back to me. I never installed your new blog good in my adressbook and saw several comments of yours but couldn't respond because it wouldn't let me.

Didn't got the time (jet) to read all about how you're doing but I will get there (soon).

Great to have you back in my blog list I"ve missed you.
Now gotta run so be back soon.
Wonderful cheerful hugs from a smiling me my friend.

sarah elwell said...

The thing that gives me hope regarding Obama is the look I keep seeing on his face - the sorrow, bewilderment, and anger. Although this all seems negative, and although he has been disempowered so much, I'm glad to see his humanity ... it appears to me he is keeping his heart ... And so he inspires me, not because he's a black president, but because he is a man who WANTS to raise people up. I am sure he will continue to do good after his presidency ... just as Al Gore does good despite not being president (or perhaps because of it).

(I myself would not have voted for Obama despite all his good policies, because I can not tolerate late term abortion ... but I would not let a man lose his boots just because of his politics.)

Sorry for being so loquacious in your combox.

mindy said...

tears falling, katiebird. thanks for writing this.

Garden of Rambles said...

Thank you for the most thoughtful reflection I've read on 9/11.

katiebird said...

Thank you ladies...hoping to turn my mind to something happier soon...