Why I Don’t Write About 9/11

September 11, 2007

I’m hesitant to post on a day like today. I don’t know what to write about. Something normal? Something deep, gripping, gritty? Something emotional, intense? Something reflective, honoring, respectful? Nothing at all?

So I check out my Bloglines and see what other people are writing.

Surreally honest as always, Penelope Trunk accounts the moments the World Trade Center fell – almost on top of her – as she stood in the middle of the mayhem. She tells how that experience reframed her perspective about things. Her husband, her to-do list. But it’s not exactly what you expect. It makes me think.

I’m getting ready to fly tomorrow. No big deal. My boss just flew in this morning from NYC. His hotel overlooked ground zero. He showed me a picture from his phone that looks like the one on CNN. For a second, we all stop and remember. Say a few words. Get back to work.

That’s how it is in so many parts of our country. We take a minute. Look. Think. Go on.

For a long time, I’ve thought that was a bad thing. I felt sort of ashamed of my experience with 9/11. I was in a journalism class when it happened. I left class and went to the hub of activity on campus. Hundreds of students were camped out in front of the big screen, watching things happen. I watched. I thought. I felt anxious, but not scared. Angry, but not distraught. Unfamiliar. Lost. Confused. I waited.

At home later that day, I sat riveted to my TV. Horrified at myself. I couldn’t figure out how I felt. Too safe, maybe. Like this was a really scary movie, and that was all. I kept reminding myself that I lived 30 minutes from a large military target, and it could happen there too. It didn’t seem to matter. It wasn’t me this happened to. It was someone else.

I wrote a lot. For a long time. Poetry, journal entries, all kinds of things. I wrote. I tried to feel. It was so numb. It all played out on TV before me. It was someone else’s experience. I was oddly a little jealous of this fact. Not that I wanted the pain, the horror, or even really to be there at all. But that I wanted it all to seem more real to me somehow.

Sure, that day is riveted in my memory. I remember sights, smells, images on the TV. It made me look at the world differently. It made me question so many more things. It spurred incredible conversations and debates. But it wasn’t personal – not really. It didn’t get stuck in my psyche, make me afraid of airplanes. Didn’t make me non-functional. Ever, really. And that, I thought, was probably a horrible, bad, awful thing.

That’s how I’ve felt about 9/11 – sort of like an outsider, trying to figure it all out, trying to make it real. That’s why I didn’t really ever write about it much again. And if I did, never really for others to read. I didn’t know what to say. Until I read Penelope’s post today. And something about reading it made that experience so real to me. It was no longer someone else’s nightmare. Something to intellectualize about. Now, something to acknowledge. To remember. To feel. To write about.

To learn from. So in closing, I’ll just share a quote from her post. I think it’s one of the most important lessons what everyone – whether they were there that day or not – can learn from this “shared” societal event:

“…Here’s what I am giving up. The idea that every second could be my last second. Because then you are not living life. Yes, it’s true, work is not as meaningful as family. And yes, it’s true, I did not think about my to-do list when I faced death. But if you’re not dead, your to-do list matters. Because that’s what life is. Life is getting up and going to work on things that are high on your list. Work in your pajamas, maybe, or in a corn field, or in the car to drive the kids to school. It’s all work. It’s what we’re doing here. And it’s a treat. … This is my life, unfolding. It’s my dream come true. It’s not unfolding like I thought it would, but I’m getting to watch it. Thank god.”


3 Responses to “Why I Don’t Write About 9/11”

  1. It’s hard to know what to say.

    So, for the past two years I have just posted a picture of an American flag that was taken by me sometime in the previous year.

  2. Susan,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree. It is hard. I guess we all learn to deal with it in different ways.

  3. Tiffany,

    I wrote something fairly similar to this and then I didn’t post it. It takes courage to be so honest. I’m happy you did.


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