9/11 Ruminations

Last year, this was my 9-11 Post:

On September 11, 2001, I was living overseas. I remember that a local newspaper carried the headline, the next day, "Superman Cries." I very much wanted to buy a copy, but I had other priorities at the time. My mom was scheduled to be on an airplane on that day, and I was trying to track her down, make sure she was safe (she was), and then I spent a lot of time on the phone or trying to get online to talk it over with her and other loved ones. By the time I tried to pick up a copy of the newspaper, they were sold out.

It's interesting that at a moment like that, people would turn to a fictional character to try to make sense of the tragedy. They could have used the Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam, the more usual allegorical figures of nationhood, but instead featured the comicbook Superman, with a single tear.

* * *

I included a link to this emotional timeline of 9-11 from Mind Hacks.

What I did not discuss was my own emotional timeline.

I happened to be in a Muslim country, as a humanitarian volunteer. We found out when one volunteer received a text message from her boyfriend. The local, government controlled television had no news about it, so we had to drive to a hotel to watch CNN. I was terrified because my mom was supposed to be on a plane to Washington D.C. that day. At another table, a group of drunk men were laughing. Yes, LAUGHING. 

The feeling I had, worrying that my mom might be dead, feeling my country was under attack, listening to people laugh as the news showed the planes crashing into the building... I experienced a terrible helpless rage. I had never felt that way before. I am generally not a rage-full person. In college I travelled to Nepal and studied compassion meditation at a Buddhist nunnery. A few months before 9/11, while living on the streets to experience what it was like to be homeless (answer: it sucks), I had been mugged, and using satyagraha techniques of nonviolent engagement, ended up chatting with my mugger to the point he started crying and telling me about his abusive childhood and how his religious sister wanted better for him. I came out of the experience, if anything, more convinced of the goodness of every human soul than before.

But on 9/11, my compassion deserted me. All I felt was horror, grief and rage.

I did not want to feel that way, and so I felt doubly violated, because I felt as if I lost my innocence as well as my illusions of safety.  When I returned to the States, I had a different view on a lot of things. Not just because of 9-11... I had also lived in a war zone, met with men who had been tortured, and met the men who done the torturing and smiled about it... I had seen a lot of evil, and it wasn't so easy for me to believe in the goodness of every human soul anymore. I had been exposed to so much virulent anti-Americanism that I became hyper-sensitive to it, and I fought with a lot of long time friends for whom anti-American one-up-manship is a harmless past time, like bowling or "yo' mama" jokes. By the way, I still shiver whenever anyone makes an anti-American comment, so if you tweet one or post it to Facebook, I will do my best not to reply. We would just fight, and that's not what I want or who I want to be.

For a long time, I wondered if I would ever feel "normal" again. Every year, when 9-11 rolled around, all those feelings crashed back down on me again.

Then I noticed a strange thing. This year as the anniversary came around, I didn't feel enraged. In fact, it was hard to remember the anger I felt in those days. It wasn't until I read Maria Zannini's blog post that I felt a jolt.

Perversely, I then worried about the fact that I couldn't remember what it felt like. Is that like betraying the memory of what happened? But that's absurd, isn't it? To want to hold on to the anger? How can you not betray those feelings yet stop being a slave to them?

Well... I am a writer. I realized maybe the time had come to write something. I had enough distance, yet could still capture those emotions, and honor them, yet move past them. I started a story. 

I'm not ready to share it year. Maybe by next 9-11.

I'm curious how to know about your emotional journey on and since 9-11. How did you feel? Would you undo what you felt (I'm not talking about what happened, because I'm going to hope that's a Yes, but the feelings you experienced in response) or are those important for you to remember and hold on to?


Kris said…
I remember the first time I saw the Twin Towers, it was during lunch in high school. Everyone watched the television with wide eyes and with open mouths covered with their hands. And I just remember watching the towers falling over and over and everyone just panicking...I cut all my nerve endings apart just so I would not even try to care. It was horrific what happened but what was more horrific were the "Proud to be American" propoganda used to justify military judgement in Iraq and hearing stories of convenience store clerks getting beat up just because they wore turbans. It killed my innocence that day but I vowed not to get into the great xenophobic hysteria that everyone was getting into.

As the days come close, I just feel sadness. I hope the hysteria doesn't start up again. That's another reason to cut apart my nerves all over again.
Maria Zannini said…
I'm still angry. Maybe not the same kind of anger I felt ten years ago, but it's still there.

So many people lost their lives--and for nothing.

I want the media to run all the film from that wretched day. I want people to remember why so many of us were angry.

Too often we conveniently forget so as not to make waves. That's how complacency begins, and then apathy.

Those who lost their lives deserved better than a soundbite.

When I read your story, I was frightened for you and for your mom. I'm glad you both got home safe.
Tara Maya said…
@ Kris. I'm a xenophile. I love other cultures, that's why I'm a writer. If xenophobia were just an American problem, I think we could lick it. Alas, it is a human problem. Those knots are harder to untangle. All the more reason to keep trying, of course.

When the war in Afghanistan began, I happened to be at the dinner party of an Afghani man. We commiserated together. His feelings were a mix of fear and hope. Fear because he had family there, and, of course, did not want them hurt. Hope, because he knew the best chance for the people of Afghanistan to have a decent future was to get rid of the Taliban.

As for the revenge killings, no excuse. Pure stupid evil. But for an uplifting story, if you haven't read it, check out this story about a man who tried to save the life of the man who tried to kill him: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2011/0720/Tales-from-a-dead-man-9-11-revenge-killer-set-to-be-executed

@ Maria. Thank you. I appreciate that very much. Your blog really did remind me, and I am glad. As painful as it was, I do not want to forget.
Kris said…
9/11 led me to make a cathartic post on my blog a The Catacomb's Bookshelf:


I sometimes forget that the U.S. is not the only "bully" when it comes to airlines and xenophobia. South Africa has had to endure many years of racism from the white minority inflicting control on the black majority. I'm happy that something like Apartheid has ended but some strands of racism still remain. And of course, it's in the U.S. and elsewhere. And I'm finding it's not so good dwelling on the "bad" aspects of anything.

We need to look forward to a day in which we can all accept each other as people. But until then, we still need to keep working on not being prejudiced and being open to all sorts of cultures and ideas. I know I want to open my mind further than most of the people I know, especially on culture.
AE Marling said…
Thank you for sharing your powerful emotional journey with us. You certainly have had your share of caustic experiences. I am happy to learn you still maintain enough balance and poise to write as well as raise your children.
My eternal best wishes.