Avoiding 9-11

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So … I did avoid 9-11. From the very beginning, I avoided.

The morning it happened I heard something on the radio then ran in and turned on the television. But I didn’t watch the T.V. anymore after I saw video feed of smoke coming from the Twin Towers. I didn’t watch people jumping to end their lives before fire did it, or the collapsing buildings. I sort of read about what happened in the newspaper. Cursory reading. But I skipped most of the personal loss stories.

The national tragedy stayed on my periphery. My kids went to school that day, only 2 families kept their children out of school because of 9-11 according to the principal. Briefly it ran through my mind as it must have parents everywhere, that I might want to keep my kids home. We lived in southern California at the time so even though the terrorist threat was half a world away, it was close because someone was out to get Americans. If it could happen there it could happen anywhere, no? But I was not going to jump on the hysteria bandwagon and decided to let common sense prevail.

At school my kindergartener and second-grader had age-appropriate discussions about what happened. At home we didn’t spend a lot of time on it, beyond me asking how the discussions at school were. At ages 5 and 8 my boos were blissfully untouched and I wanted to keep it that way.

I didn’t even analyze why I didn’t get caught up in all the sadness coming from New York, Pennsylvania and DC. And believe me, thinking about myself, analyzing myself, well that is like eating my mother’s homemade strawberry cake – there is almost nothing better.

The pack mentality in news, in fashion, in kitchen appliances does not appeal to me. I’m not bragging that I don’t always give into it, but a person can try. That was probably the first reason I refused to get caught up in the 9-11 massacre. I wish it were a better reason, like I was too sensitive to withstand the onslaught of sorrow and loss brought on by the maniacal, selfish, baby-minded terrorists.

But probably the truest reason was I didn’t want to be part of an audience feeding on catastrophe. It happened. Me knowing about it, my neighbor knowing about it over and over wasn’t going to change one molecule anywhere.

In a way it’s nice that they commemorated 9-11 with a 10th anniversary. I read that a family member of each person killed that day read aloud the dead person’s name and included a personal note. It took about 4 hours to read 2,983 names — 2,977 killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and six killed at the trade center because of a truck bomb in 1993.

Maybe it’s because of the simple genius of listing the killed person’s name on the Vietnam War Memorial at the Washington Mall that they carved the names of the dead into the memorial at the World Trade Center. Maybe that is why people etch relatives’ names with paper, it’s a concrete impression that their person matters.

I met someone personally touch by 9-11 a couple of years ago, I sat next to her at a DMV. Her husband was a New York firefighter and lost his life because of it. She and their two children moved, she returned to school, got her masters and a good job. There was no hint of self-pity as she told me her story. Very pleasant and matter-of-fact. I know there is a lot she didn’t tell me.

Acknowledgement of the dead gives the living comfort, and comfort is not just warmth on a cold day. Comfort is saying, this person who lived was important. This person who lived wanted better, was hurt and hurt people,  cried over stupid things, sometimes ate too much and laughed about it, and this person knew me and hugged me like no one else ever will.

Americans are united by the tragedies because it could have been anyone who died, the terrorists sought to kill Americans. So we are kind of all in this together.

But the people who lost a loved one that day are alone. I didn’t mean to diminish the loss of a life by trying to ignore the tragedy. Comfort for someone who loses a loved one might in part be publicly acknowledging  that “this person was important and now they are gone. They were ripped from me. Stolen. You have to know this, you have to know I hurt because they are gone.”

We know.

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