Just another day

This weekend is the tenth anniversary of September 11th, and I am going fishing.

We were there, then, in Kevin’s apartment, two doors down from the South Tower. When the tower fell, we stood in a doorway, the way you’re supposed to in an earthquake, hoping it wouldn’t fall on us. We left that afternoon, and walked through the unfathomable landscape of concrete dust and broken building. Of paper and shoes. Of silent emergency workers trying to absorb the horror of their loss. We walked the six miles to my apartment and moved in together.

This past week, everyone has been talking about that day and its lessons. I can’t for the life of me think of one.

Mere months after the century that gave us Stalin and Pol Pot and Hitler, surely we can’t be surprised by the human capacity for atrocity. And slaughter in the name of religion? September 11th ain’t got nothing on the Crusades.

We think of September 11th differently not because it was different, but because it happened to us. It was our horror and our loss. But I don’t think it changed us because I don’t think we change.

The idea that life-and-death events are seminal, that they make us somehow fundamentally different, seems to me to be wrong. It’s an idea rooted in the depth and intensity of our feelings when these things happen. The death of loved one, the diagnosis of a terrible disease, a terrorist attack in our back yard – they push us so far beyond our accustomed emotional amplitude that we feel different.

But we’re not different. Feelings have the power to change us only when we’re feeling them. They fade, and we return to the homeostasis of our essential nature. And a good thing, too.

The evanescence of emotion is the foundation of human resilience.

For weeks after the attacks, the mere sight of a fireman had me fighting tears. The grief and the memory filled all my psyche’s empty spaces. But only for a while. Time went to work, healing all wounds.

I don’t believe there is one single solitary constructive thing to be said about September 11th., and rehashing it serves only to interrupt the recovery that comes from the ebb of the emotion of that day. It makes us feel bad, to no good end.

I want to let time keep doing its work. I want to return to the homeostasis of life as we know it. Life where evil exists but there’s not much we can do about it. Life where firemen don’t make us cry. Life where, on a beautiful day in September, we go fishing.

17 people are having a conversation about “Just another day

  1. I agree completely, too much rehashing this week. Tomorrow is Fun Day in the park in my town, and I’m going to be there.

  2. Well said.

    I’ve begun avoiding TV and radio the past few days. Too much drama and “commemoration.” No disrespect toward the memories of those who died, but so much of the coverage seems like an unseemly celebration of grief in the quest for ratings. Might try the radio again Monday.

    I’m glad, though, that I read this.

    Right now I can hear geese honking and splashing out on the lake. I might have get out and go for a paddle soon. And tomorrow does indeed seem like a good day to fish…

  3. My husband has been a Firefighter a short time, he started his career late in life… at 35. Every evening when he calls home while he is away on shift, I feel a sense of relief. We were insulated from that day far away in CA. We had only images, and we still do. I do not look at them. I think of my husband and my daughter, how I know neither one of them would want what I see in the memories of those lost as they are now portrayed, or their children drug into the spotlight every year.

    Tomorrow I will be insulated from the images sure to be on every patients t.v. while I am on my clinical rounds. I will enjoy the predominately geriatric population we care for in the medical surgical units of hospitals because they make me smile. And then I will come home, and enjoy the company of my daughter, before I start studying for this weeks test. I will though, however, feel more relief than usual when my husband calls at 7 pm sharp.

    Thanks Tamar, I always enjoy your posts. And I couldn’t agree with you more. I hope you find a school of fish boiling tomorrow. Always a good day.

  4. martha in mobile (no longer) says:

    I’m with you. After 9/11, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I felt guilty for being alive. I honor the dead, but I don’t see how it helps to relive that time.

  5. I was getting ready for high school in Ca when it happened and I still shudder everytime I hear a low flying plane overhead. I don’t think we need to watch the recap or have so much coverage on tv. It’s almost insensitive to those who were there. Like you, I doubt many people want to watch it on tv again. I would rather spend 9/11 making new memories with my family so we have happy memories of this time instead of fear and sadness.

  6. Thank you so much for your insightful comments, Tamar. I heard a psychologist yesterday remind parents not to allow their young children to watch the repeated images, as it was the repetition which could damage them. He also said, and this I found comforting, that for the generations which didn’t experience the day, it would not hold the same horror and dread it does for us; they would regard it the way we might Hiroshima or the great San Francisco earthquake, with sorrow but not fear, as an historical event.

  7. The bloody shirt can be safely and perpetually waved during speeches and in the bottomless echo chamber of the media precisely because our unified cultural response was so strongly felt. The mere mention of the event can now be expected to invoke a predictable and homogenous response. It’s easy points for politicians and guaranteed ratings for the news gerbils.

    I do think it’s worth pointing out that while we as individuals may remain essentially unchanged, the events on 9/11 did set the stage for a significant change in our societal personality, and justified the continued sacrifice of personal freedom for security.

  8. I loved your post and agree with most of it wholeheartedly. But I must disagree with one particular:

    “We” are different. Not as individuals, you are correct there. Not even as a groups of individuals have we changed in any significant way.

    But as a society we are now as different from the pre-9/11 America as can be.

    Once “we” were a people who valued our freedoms, fought for our freedoms and guarded them staunchly against domestic incursion.

    Now, “we” allow no retrenchment from the thoroughly anti-constitutional Patriot Act, “we” elect candidates that overtly seek to withdraw the gurantees of the constitution they claim to worship. “We” allow ourselves to be searched in more and more intrusive ways for no good reason.

    “We” are no longer the free country that existed before the Towers went down.

    America is more like the U.S.S.R. of the 1960’s than the America I loved so well before.

  9. Well said!

    I’m a newspaper editor, so I can’t escape it completely, but I don’t work Sundays, so I didn’t have to deal with the events ON the day, and spent it, productively, acquiring a floor loom and other odds and ends for weaving from a 90-plus friend-of-a-friend who is downsizing her equipment. And ignoring all the maudlin Facebook posts. It was a good day.

    Also, a “well said!” to Shannon. “We” are the only ones who can turn that back.

  10. Thanks to all for weighing in. I’m glad I’m not the only one doing something other than thinking about 9/11 on 9/11.

    Matt and Shannon — You are absolutely right. It’s individuals who don’t change, not societies. Our world and our politics have most certainly changed since 9/11, and because of it. But even societies revert to a kind of homeostasis, I think, as the institutional memory of the seminal event fades. I’m almost finished reading The Hare with Amber Eyes, a memoir by Edmund de Waal about his family, prominent and wealthy Jews who came to Vienna, pre-WWI, from Russia. Although there are vast differences between us, now, and Europe a century ago, the book is a testament to how quickly societies can change, both for the better and for the worse. Here’s hoping for the better.

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