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Ghosts of 9/11: Five years, five phases

There's little that I can say about 9/11 that hasn't already been said.

My mind casts about, and I think of how this event has personally affected people. I think of dark-haired men, born on American soil, who have shaved their beards in the hope of avoiding profiling because an official might mistake them for someone from the Middle East. I think especially of the children who were babies then, and the children who were around ten. I think of the fatherless and motherless children whose parents died in the attack. The ten year olds are now fifteen, and can watch the replay on CNN ... they may have been too young to understand what was transpiring then, but they're old enough now. The babies ... they're now five. 9/11 will have always existed for them. They'll grow up in a world shaped by it. I feel sorry for them that they never saw the world as it was before that point.

Some folks are watching the replay just to compare the broadcast then to the spin that's happened since. I've watched a snippet or two: while the political statements about our military might were intended to comfort a frightened nation, today, the words ring false in my ears and seem arrogant. We were so confident. We still don't have bin Laden. I've had the logic of why explained to me, and I understand the reasoning, but it still bothers me.

I think, too, of my friends who have served and are still active in the military. I think of a guild mate who finally came home from Iraq in May. I think of online acquaintances that I know who went off to fight, and I honestly have no idea if they are alive or dead. Does anyone know if lurch_4 is okay?

Truth be told, both on vacation last week, and today, my thoughts were of Paris, not New York and Washington. A quote from Delenn in Babylon 5 kept playing over and over in my head: "I think of my beautiful city in flames." I thought of the riots, and how alien the instigators seemed to me. Whatever their motivations, whatever their perceptions of treatment, there is no justification for what they did. There were other avenues than arson, than terrorism. However they felt, you just don't burn the most beautiful city in the world.

And then it occurred to me that Paris has survived much worse in the past, and risen from the ashes.

I read a while back that "Rumors, Bargains, and Lies," the B5 episode from which that quote comes, really got to Mira Furlan, the actress playing Delenn. Her tears were quite genuine: she and her husband are from Yugoslavia (now Croatia), and the situation in the story reminded her of the civil war in her home country.

People all over the world have seen their cities framed in ash and fire. From Ireland to Africa, from Spain to Israel, for as long as human civilization has existed, nations have invaded and violated other nations.

I wish I knew what to do about it. More practically, I wish the current world leaders knew what to do about it. Nobody does. If that sounds naive and idealistic, so be it.

I think the worst thing for me about today is that I'm not feeling much of anything at all.

It's said that there are five phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I don't want to be in the last phase. I don't want to have accepted this fatalism, this sense that this is simply the is, the way things are. Five years, and it seems I'm in the fifth phase. I don't have the energy of anger, the indignation that I imagine friends of mine believe I ought to have about that day. I try to summon it: packrat that I am, I have a lot of old magazines. I look at articles and advertisements from some pre-9/11 material. I have the video of our honeymoon in Europe. I do remember life before 9/11, but it's been long enough since I lived that life that I've reached the point where I just almost nod and shrug at news of a bombing, a terrorist plot revealed. It's not apathy or cynicism, it's just that I've come to expect it. I just take it in stride that I'm going to avoid flying because I want to avoid hassles.

And yet, I think to an extent, this is the norm for almost every generation. My parents saw advances in technology, but the Cold War was a looming threat for much of their lives, too. Now this. It's always something, and as I said, for as long as human civilization has existed, we've been throwing rocks at each other. The rocks just keep getting bigger and more destructive.

I wish I weren't so matter-of-fact about this. I wish I genuinely felt something about today.

Maybe the best way I can explain what I'm not feeling is this: actors sometimes find that if they go to an emotional well too often, it dries up. If there's a particularly painful memory that they regularly access in order to express grief, it loses its potency. I think that's what I'm experiencing right now. I've seen the images too many times, and I don't need to see them again. They're permanently embedded in my brain.

I'm tapped out on terrorism, tapped out on grief and horror, and tapped out on outrage. I expect to catch some flak for that -- how selfish that is, how shameful when so many are still in Iraq who are also tapped out but are still trudging on through the job they have to do, but I'm not going to be dishonest and pretend to feel something that I don't. I sympathize, and I feel grateful for what they're giving in a situation that's harder than they or anyone else ever imagined it would be. I support the efforts and dedication of friends and family who have been there. Here at home, I remember and admire the courage of many that day and in the days after: the fire department, the rescue workers, the construction workers who began to rebuild, and many others. I can feel for the people, and feel sad for the state of things: I just can't conjure much emotion about the actual events of the day. I watch the coverage, and I'm disconnected; desensitized.

The best I could muster was to talk to my mother on the phone and tell her that I wish she'd let us come home for her birthday in a few weeks, because I couldn't help thinking of the people who said "see you tonight" to their loved ones on the morning of 9/11/01 and never saw them again.

I'm just going to live my life, and let the people that I care about know that I love them. I can try to make my small sphere of the world better. Whether that's acceptance, exhaustion, or simply recognition of what can and cannot be changed, I don't know. I just know it's what I can do.

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goodjoan
Sep. 12th, 2006 06:32 am (UTC)
It's funny because my kids are in that spread. Owen was 6 when it happened, in school that day thought we eventually went and got him and brought him home. We gave him sketchy details, a plane crashed, people died, it was very sad. As he got older we added more information, people crashed the planes on purpose, innocent people were in the planes and in the buildings, etc. It was a year or two later that I let him see the images on tv. I had sheltered him form it when it happened. Everett was 4, Eli 2 and Audrey just a big fat belly waiting to be born. They don't really remember it happening, but they know the story. It's always just been for them. This is how it's always been. It seems so strange that something so clear and recent to me, can be so far away for them! My dad remembers Pearl Harbor and I remember him saying similar things about how sad it was that my generation didn't remember it, because we'd have different morals if we did.

I was at a scout function a few weeks ago with Owen and he was instructed to go through a newspaper and cut out articles about crime and crime prevention. The front page was an article about the recent blip in the Ramsey case. The police lady running the seminar said "Oh you guys know all about that, cut that one out!" and I found myself reminding her that the case was 10 years old. Owen was just a baby when it happened! He was a toddler when it was given up by the media and it's not something I've told him about ever. Why scare him? He knew nothing about the little blonde girl in the picture. Obviously, he knows now but I wish he didn't I wish his childhood could be longer. I wish his little safe pink bubble would not pop and reveal all the glaring realities of life, at leats not for a while!
pointedview
Sep. 12th, 2006 12:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks for understanding some of what I was driving at, here. I know my mother and father wish that my sister and I had grown up in a world without AIDS, without having to know about some of the related subject matter perhaps sooner than we might've otherwise. (Not about sex -- our parents explained the basics very early, and we were content -- but more all the clinical details of STDs, condoms, etc.) Like you, they wanted to preserve our childhood just a bit longer.

*nods* I, too, thought of Pearl Harbor, and about how that impacted my grandparents perspective not only on the world at large, but also how it made their children's lives different from their own.

For what it's worth, I'm glad to hear that you kept things sketchy for a while. I never knew until I was well into college that my uncle committed suicide when I was seven, and I'm glad my parents protected me from that knowledge until I was really old enough to handle it.
hehutalks
Sep. 12th, 2006 08:11 pm (UTC)
If it's any comfort, I'm in NYC and feel almost exactly the same way - and so do a lot of people up here. Yes, those directly affected still live with the horror on the anniversary. But many of us who lived here in 2001 have done the one thing this miserable city does well - cope and move on.

I was curious to see my reactions yesterday and even spent several hours watching the re-airing of CNN's coverage of the event on Pipeline. Instead of shock and horror, I found myself thinking it would make for an interesting journalism class, given the amount of misinformation that was coming in at the time (car bombs at the State Dept., additional explosions at the WTC, etc.) All other memories were remembering what that day was like for me and my coworkers who were stranded in DC.

When the day was done, I didn't go home to quietly reflect. I went home and wrote the new friends I made during our trip to Jamaica last week, drank a beer and caught up on my Tivo. Thankfully, I missed Bush's speech.
pointedview
Sep. 13th, 2006 01:08 am (UTC)
That is comforting, actually. I'm glad that you posted on this.

I think writing to your new friends was a splendid way to spend the time. We cannot do anything for the dead at this point, so it seems better to me to connect with the living.
goodjoan
Sep. 13th, 2006 02:28 pm (UTC)
We 'celebrated' the day by not talking about it, save to acknowledge what day it was that morning, and then going about our day, we went to cub scouts, Owen visited a new boy scout troop and then we all went out to dinner together. Somehow, for me, it just feels more right to appreciat the day by making it NORMAL and not a time to reflect on the horror and the terror and the fear and sadness. That's what they wanted right, they wanted us to be afraid and sad and feel uneasy about things. I win by not doing that.

There is talk about calling it a national day or mourning. I think we might be better served to make it a national day of gratitude. Today I am thankful for my family and I will TELL THEM SO. I am thankful for my friends, both fleshy and virutal. I am grateful for the high level of security that we normally expect (not gettting into politics, but compare the US to say, Isreal or Ireland of a few years back where bombings are/were a fairly common problem!) I will take the time to remember to be open to new ideas and tolerant of other peoples cultures and take the time to teach the same to my children so they don't grow up thinking that the mindsets that got the ball rolling for 9/11, both the mindset of the US government and the mindset of the terrorists aren't ok.

It's a day to be grateful for the things we love, the things that mean the most to us that we often forget to say out loud!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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