I know it’s 9/13, soon to be 9/14. I get that the big anniversary came and went and the chatter that always pops up this time each year has diminished. Here’s the thing, though, I don’t often talk about it. I don’t like to talk about bad things at all. I don’t even like to watch movies where the tense and stressful part lasts longer than a few minutes. I live in a bubble of my own creation, and it works for me most days.
But then there are days that it doesn’t work. The bubble causes me to shy away from anything that might be difficult, that might make me cry, or that might make me face the reality of the mortality of myself, my family, and the people I love. The side effect of my well-crafted bubble is that, when it bursts, it is an unbearable thing. The weight of everything comes all at once – the reality of everything comes all at once. I become obsessed with justifying or rectifying the situation and it basically consumes me until I can get my bubble back up and running.
I can’t justify September 11, 2001. I can’t rectify it in any way. The fact that a handful of the people responsible are dead means nothing to me, and gives me no peace. I have been very aware of this, and for that reason I have avoided every memorial, every television special, and every documentary on the event for the last 10 years. It’s not that I ever forgot it happened, but I was doing everything I could to patch up my bubble. This year, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I decided I needed to face up to it. I watched a few of the memorials in the morning, and my husband and I watched the 102 Minutes That Changed America documentary in the evening. I left the room crying several times, but always returned to make it through it. I felt I needed to. I should have known better. I saw images I had never seen, heard voices and messages that I had never heard, and I’m not quite sure that I will be able to patch up my bubble this time.
“Where were you when it happened?” Everyone has been asked this question. Everyone has been part of the discussion as people share their stories. I was 19. My daughter was only a few weeks old, and I was on my way to the NICU to visit her when the morning show I was listening to started talking through what they were watching on the news. When I got to the hospital, the nurses had gotten a small, portable tv, and we all huddled around it to watch. I couldn’t even hold my daughter yet. All I could do was reach my hand in and touch her foot. I cried. The nurses cried. It was terrifying. Looking back, I can selfishly admit that I think my tears were much more out of personal fear than out of compassion. My “19” was not a very mature one. I was rarely concerned with anyone other than myself. At the time, I thought it was horrible and scary, but I had no idea how to grasp the reality of what it was.
This past Sunday, on the 10th anniversary, I watched it all again. This time, I can say fully and completely that it was more horrific than I could have ever remembered. Watching it through the eyes of a 29-year-old mother of two was infinitely different than watching it as a 19-year-old barely mother of one. My heart hurt, my stomach hurt, my soul hurt….I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes just writing this now and I’m not even thinking about anything in particular. How is it that the reliving of an event can be worse than the initial reaction to an event? I’m not sure the answer to that, other than the feeling that in my existence now I can truly recognize what happened. I think about how my fear for my family is immeasurably stronger a reaction than a fear for myself. My view on the event, on the world, is different.
I was speaking with a good friend when a way to put it into words struck me out of nowhere:
In 2001, when I was sitting in front of the television and the first tower collapsed, I gasped and thought, “Oh my god! That entire BUILDING just fell down!”
In 2011, as I sat in my living room with my husband and watched the first tower collapse, I burst into tears and screamed, “Oh my god! All of those PEOPLE….all of those people….”
We grow and change along with our lives. I’m not ready to let go of my bubble yet, but I am starting to take my time repairing it. Maybe it’s time that I didn’t require shelter from everything. Maybe I need to let reality in sometimes. Maybe putting things into words is a start.