The Only Post I’m Going to Write for 9/11
Here’s the deal: I dread this day.
Many would argue I’m too weak or heartless for the constant reminders, that I’d rather stick my head in the sand, or, even worse, that I don’t appreciate all of the brave men and women who went above and beyond the call of duty in a time of genuine crisis.
9/11 was painful for me on a very visceral level because I was pregnant with my first child. 9/11 marked a turning point in a semester that had begun with such promise. 9/11 killed not only killed people, but it also killed hopes, dreams, and innocence. 9/11 marked the day that political bickering caused a more rancorous divide among people at a time when we ought to have been coming together. I hate the evil of that day so much it makes it hard to celebrate the good demonstrated in the face of such evil. And then I hate myself for not being able to focus on the triumphs over the tragedy, or for questioning the motives of every public person who evokes that date.
Maybe I’m still really bitter about the job that was given to me–selfish, really, since I wasn’t the one who had to rush into harm’s way wearing dozens of pounds of equipment. But the task that was set before me was antithetical to my very nature: I had to enter a room of sophomores, to tell them what had happened even though I didn’t have any answers, and then I had to send them out into class change even though I wanted to gather them under my wings like a mother hen. I had to kill dreams and dispel innocence. Let me assure you, I never signed on to do that job. I worry every damn year about how badly I botched it because I can’t tell you what I said. I can tell you that the counselor who told me what had happened and what I needed to do almost called a doctor for me because I turned so pale. The numbers 9 1 and 1 were mentioned out in the hallway.
But, no. I nodded that I would. I thought about my mother and how she could tackle anything with aplomb, how she told me that childbirth was just “a little uncomfortable,” and I went inside and made a silly, silly lovable bunch grow up that much faster. And then the bell rang. I had to tell them it was okay to go to their next class, that they should go to their next class. At that moment, I didn’t know if it was okay. I didn’t know if anything was okay. Those were my babies almost as much as the one I carried in my stomach, and I had to send them away with false assurances.
What the counselor didn’t tell me was that my second group would be even difficult. They were Spanish I students, a grab bag of grades and ages, and my largest class. I didn’t bother conducting class. Turning on the TV because I didn’t have the answers to any of their questions, I worried about that. Am I showing them too much? Is there going to be something on there they shouldn’t see? Am I traumatizing them even more than if I’d left the television off? I still don’t know. I still believe humans desperately want to know why. Maybe that’s why we turn to religion and psychology: to help us understand why. As a public school teacher, I could only reference religion with a light touch even if I’d had theological answers. As to psychology? I certainly wasn’t trained in that.
Every part of that day up until the end was spent worrying about my students. But then I went home.
I turned on the TV in the hopes that it’d all been some kind of weird hallucination, but, no. The news stations were running the same facts over and over along with the same horrific images. I wrapped my arms around my belly, and I wondered what the hell I was doing bringing a child into a world like that. For about an hour, all of the joy I’d felt from my pregnancy left me. I had my hand on my stomach thinking, “How? How can I possibly protect my child from something like this? How can I bring my baby into a world that is so inherently evil?”
Eventually, common sense returned. Women had been bearing babies during wars for centuries. Women bore babies into horrible poverty and other unsavory living conditions. I would do what I had to do which was the best I could do. I would believe that good is going to triumph over evil because I had to. I would put some of my greater questions about life and faith away because there was really only one person who could answer them, and I probably wouldn’t get the chance to ask Him until I was dead. In short, I got out of bed the next day, I went back to school, and I carried on.
But that doesn’t mean I want to see those pictures ever, ever, ever again. They carry with them not only the horror of the people in those buildings, in the Pentagon, in that ill-fated flight but also a sea of agape faces with eyes and mouths that ask questions that I still can’t answer. They carry with them all of the hateful things that were said and done and to others simply because they LOOKED like “terrorists.” They carry memories of the frail Indian lady who was held up from a wheel chair so she could be mercilessly searched in the airport, of authors whose books tanked because they were released that week, and of the day that I was called unAmerican because I wanted to analyze the situation before moving relentlessly forward.
So, no. I’m not going to make a habit of getting nostalgic all over my social media. In general, I’m going to keep calm and carry on. I wince with every one of those pictures that shows up. I don’t need them. I see the date on the calendar, and I remember. And I pray.
I remember once when my mother I were heading to a funeral. She was talkative despite the strain to her voice, “Didn’t I remember when so-and-so did ___?” and “What about that time so-and-so ___?” and “What’s your favorite thing about so-and-so?” I couldn’t take it. All of my memories and all of pain was focused inward. To bring it out was even more painful than holding it in. So, I know there are a lot of folks who need those pictures. They need to talk about it. They need to remember because it’s their way of paying homage.
I’m just not there yet.