Although this blog is fairly new, my writing career isn’t. I’ve been a newspaper columnist for a bit over ten years now. And on September 11, 2001, I was an inexperienced columnist of 2 months, trying to make sense of what had just happened to our country. This is my original column, which was printed on September 14, 2001. It’s not my usual writing style, but it certainly reflects how I felt at the time.
Today’s column was supposed to be about living rooms. We don’t really live in them anymore, you know. But on Tuesday morning I could not face editing and submitting that column. It didn’t feel correct to write about living rooms when some people were never going to see theirs again.
So I sat down and wrote this column. Actually I wrote it twice. The first one worked out my own emotions and this one worked out—well I don’t know what it worked out, but I felt better after writing it.
The thought of the people in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the four planes still makes me sick. I cannot face the human loss. I cannot watch the people leap from the towers. I cannot listen to the news reports when they tell of people phoning loved ones from the planes to tell them they are about to die. I cannot imagine making that call, or worse, getting that call.
The newspapers and television label the people who did the attacks on Tuesday terrorists. And they are terrorists. They inspire terror. They make us afraid to go on a plane. They make us afraid to go outside, to send our kids to school. They are pretty terrifying.
But the one thing that always amazes me is the American people. Now, I am not going to get dramatic and have the Star Spangled Banner swelling in the background while you read this, but think about it. How many yellow ribbons did you tie around trees during the hostage crisis? How many times did you listen to Tony Orlando sing that song? Do you wear a red badge for AIDS? A pink ribbon for breast cancer? Can you remember exactly where you were the day Kennedy was assassinated? Do you spare a second on December 7 to remember Pearl Harbor Day? Is an American flag flying outside your house as you read this?
These are the ways we cope with traumatic events. These are the ways we get the terror out of the word terrorist. It seems small, but we do it. In my neighborhood, there are American flags everywhere. I am ashamed to say I did not own one. On the 4th of July I usually put out a flag with Mickey Mouse dressed as Uncle Sam.
So on Wednesday, I dropped Junior off at school and headed to Orchard Supply. I bought two American flags. One for the house, one for Junior’s tree fort (which usually has Junior’s beloved pirate flag hanging from it). And by doing that small thing, I felt better. I was able to get the sadness out and let the anger in. Maybe the anger isn’t a good thing, but it is a way to cope with this immeasurable grief we all feel.
And now that I was angry, I finally realized something that had gotten lost in my grief. My safe little world isn’t so safe. I will worry each time my husband gets on a plane, no matter what the destination. I don’t want to get one of those phone calls. I will worry because he works in a large, visible building in the heart of Silicon Valley. I will worry because I don’t want to fully understand the meaning of the word terrorist. And I will worry because there is nothing I can do to stop the worry.
Oh, I know that life will go on. Since I submit this on Wednesday, it could be that we already have moved on. It could be that Tuesday’s events and any that followed are now part of our history, like Pearl Harbor. Having never lived through that, I always thought of it as a traumatic event, but one that didn’t affect me. I mean, I went to the memorial. I’ve seen the movies. But effect my life? Nah. How naïve am I? It affected me. It affected me because it affected an entire generation of people that came before me.
And someday, when Junior is older, he will learn of Tuesday’s events. It will be part of his history classes. And I hope I can convey to him that it mattered. That it was scary. And that it affected him.
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