An updated repost from last year. I wish you solace today and every day.
I hate spending 9/11 in Chicago. The area seems impersonal, cavalier, lonely. I wish I were back on the east coast with others who felt it, and felt it deeply. There was no one here with whom I could sit and quietly do nothing other than wait to hear from loved ones and friends.
For months afterwards, I spoke with friends and family, each processing in his or her own way. I heard a lot of stories about funerals. I heard a lot of those horrible details that seem the stuff of very good fiction.
I get very prickly here in Chicago on this day. I don’t wallow in this day. I don’t believe in staying stuck. I do believe in living life. I also believe in respect. I believe the best artists, politicians, and humans among us would not capitalize on this day for personal gain. I try to stay off of social media, as I have many friends who perform/work in comedy (sketch, stand up, musical, etc.) As I’ve noted, I’ve seen one too many invites to comedy shows that are themed around 9/11, and while I don’t believe in sacred cows, I do believe you need to be pretty damned funny to pull off a comedy show about this date and her events.
Ultimately, the feelings are mine. I believe that your Facebook/Twitter is yours. You do with it what you want. I own my upset.
I look at everything today with a dark lens. I miss my friends. I missed grieving with others for our shared friends and for their friends. I grieved here with people who were mostly stunned and hurt, but not personally affected. It’s not the same. I feel unsettled. I wonder if I’m allowed to feel this raw, to share in the pain because I was here.
I wrote the following a few years ago:
Some of this I’ve shared here before…
I was a middle school social studies teacher on 9/11/01. Because of the subject matter and because I saw all the students in my grade level, I was charged with the task of “addressing” the attacks with the students on the 12th. We were to tell the students during school on the 11th only that something had happened, that they needed to hear it from family, and we would talk about it tomorrow.
I watched the news coverage during my prep periods. I saw bodies falling from the towers. I didn’t know if my east coast family and friends were alive. The students caught wind of a massive happening, an event shaking the country to its core. They didn’t know for sure. Still, someone told, someone heard, rumors spread. I clenched, I paused, I went about my business. I pointed out Mesopotamia on a map per my lesson plans. I made my usual jokes: “You made a Mess o’ Potamia, you clean it up.” (Months before Jon Stewart used it.) I went robotic, which meant a lot of bad jokes and quick talking.
We had a scheduled staff meeting after school. The kids were gone, the air conditioned library offered relief from a lingering summer heat. I tried to keep my sobs to more professional streaming tears hidden by staring down at an agenda. Two coworkers turned to me asking why I was crying. That is one of my lasting memories of that day. Did they not care? Did the geological distance offer emotional buffer? Were they in shock? Were they assholes? Was I out of control? It seemed a little early for the dimming of empathy, even in our fast food culture. It also seemed like a really heartless stupid question. Most of my coworkers, though, were in the same painful fog I was. We all were scrambling very, very slowly.
No reaction seemed out of bounds. I had no idea how to teach the next day, how to handle my task. In the back of my mind, Open House was also that night, on the 12th. I knew parents needed me guiding the children masterfully and gently on that day. I stayed up all night watching CNN. My brain and guts twisted with each passing hour. I didn’t know how to start class. I began planning backwards from what I wanted to tell the parents that night. Your children are safe. We will walk this with them. We’re watching and listening to them. It’s going to be ok.
Who was going to convince me of all this?
The students, mercifully, did not really want answers. They wanted some clarification, some reassurance, some stability. I tried desperately to balance gravitas with hope. Social science with philosophy. Make no mistake how upset these young people were at the age of 12. They had enough maturity to see what was going on and enough awareness to know that they were being cheated out of a fundamental part of growing up in America…a pleasant (even if false) sense of security and protection. Pain, suffering on a national level were the unfortunate things of geology and weather for them before 9/11. The kids processed as only kids can. Most just wanted to continue with the bad jokes and fast talking. Deflection, avoidance, warmth, coping.
Three little faces, triplet students of mine, told me each in the three classes I had them that it was their birthday on 9/11. They were crestfallen that this had happened on their day. They knew they would always have to share 9/11 with grief and memorials. Their “remember whens” would include hushed references to a day they should have celebrated. They would always have to defer to a nation’s needs. Hard concept for a teen.
Many students in my first period wanted to know why there had been so much paper strewn about when the buildings collapsed. I stomped on a piece of paper. It didn’t shatter. They got what I was doing. The stomp, however, was met with reflexive jumps and paled faces. I didn’t repeat that in my later classes.
Not so slowly did we return to normal. Road rage returned to greet me with every commute. We happily soaked in our self-absorbtion and petty qualms, our complaints about meals and other people’s small choices that affect us not one bit. We watched as we went to war, shook our heads, re-elected a president to maintain a sense of potency. We didn’t change horses midstream. We laughed, we loved. We rebuilt. We take our shoes off before we fly. We share our private conversations with our governments. We challenge those who question by stating if we have nothing to hide, we should have no problems. Our fears are goverened, not our highest selves.
It’s been a long time. I’ve never asked anyone why they are crying.