OP/ED: A first and last comment on 9-11.
It’s now been 13 years since 9-11, and I’ve never once written a single word about it. I’ve been asked many times, why not? I always said it was because I only cover local news – which was sort of true – but what a cop out.
The real reason I never wrote about it was because I felt guilty. Like most people I know, I remember sitting in front of the TV, watching the second plane hit and people jumping out of windows, and the horror of it all … but I felt, at the time, almost nothing.
I felt that sickening lurching of the stomach one feels when they know the whole world has just been irrevocably changed – but I didn’t cry, I wasn’t sad for the victims, my compassion metre was at zero. It took me days to reach that kind of sadness, as I watched survivors search for loved ones (that undid me, to be sure).
At the time, though, I actually was wondering if it was an Orson Wells ‘War of the Worlds’ thing. It looked Hollywood, not real world, to me. I was so numb that I even went to a counsellor to see if there was something wrong with me, that I didn’t feel what others felt. I watched my friends cry and grieve … and felt nothing but sad that they were sad.
She said it was completely normal to need time to process something this huge, and to try to find ways in your own mind to make it not true – and I didn’t really believe her … until now.
I’ve just started to realize how confusing that time was– millions of people around the world die all the time. It seemed wrong, to me, to grieve more for American lives than for others. What I didn’t get then was that it’s not either/or – but it CAN be all or nothing. I can hurt deeply for a dog that’s been beaten to death without that ever diminishing the value I place on millions of human lives. I place value on every life, and I can mourn each, without guilt. It’s when I start saying, “How can you care about THAT when THIS is happening?” that I’m swimming in dangerous waters.
My brother was at Ground Zero with the Red Cross, helping coordinate tens of thousands of volunteers (my brother is the coolest) and he told me, when you walked across that place, you could almost hear the screams of the thousands of souls who died in terror and agony. That has haunted me for over a decade – and rightly so. If one person dies, I will hurt, just as I will for 1,000 or a million. Or even just a dog. It took me 13 years to get right with that.
But what really confounded me, what I really couldn’t process at the time, was this: Lots of people die in cruel, pointless violence, and we should remember every one of them. I think the poignancy of 9-11 goes beyond that – I think the spirit of North America died a little, too. We stopped feeling safe, and started looking at our friends as potential enemies.
Every time hate triumphs and becomes the standard by which we judge each other, the Universe becomes a darker place.
So, I’m writing now. To everyone who, like me, didn’t know what to feel, and beat themselves up for it. To everyone whose world became a more frightening place. To everyone lost that day and everyone who has had to live with that loss, and to everyone suffering from the racism that day created.
I will try to honour you in my own little way by being as loving today – and every day – as I can manage.