11 September 2007

September 11

I could get completely caught up in an argument of the decisions made before 9/11. Administrative, economical, political decisions that may have contributed to the death toll that day. Opportunities 'we' may have had to deal with bin Laden prior to that Tuesday. About people working in positions of national security who may have been fired for pointing out failures that quite possibly compromised our country's safety. Systems and policies in New York City that may have prevented clear communications between rescue agencies. Whether or not we had become a country of complacent citizens, oblivious to the world beyond us and even to the workings of our own government, unable to see past the end of our collective wallet.

I could also get caught up in arguments of the decisions made since 9/11. Whether we should or should not have gone to war with Iraq, whether or not we should still be at war with Iraq. Whether or not it's patriotic or disloyal to be against the war. Whether or not you can be against the war and still be seen as supportive of our troops. About the people who are/were in the position to make policy and decision that in effect treat an entire population of our nation's young and strong and courageous military personnel as if they are disposable human beings. If I wear a flag on my blouse today, am I pro-war? If I speak out against President Bush, am I unpatriotic? I could get completely caught up in such discussion.

But what I really want to do is weep.

All day today and for a few day after, my eyes will be wet and red and on the verge. People I work with will wonder if I'm feeling okay. It's a grief very specific to September 11th. It happens every year since 2001. It feels heavy, like a wet wool coat that I can't take off. Heavy, dark, oppressive.

It isn't that I don't think about it and remember through out the other days of the year. I do. But when the anniversary comes around, inside my chest there seems to develop the weight of a stone engraved with 09/11/01

I guess I feel like I don't have the right to this grief. I have no direct nor indirect connection to any one who was killed or injured on September 11th. I have no personal friends or family that have been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan as a result of September 11th. I read somewhere that 3,051 children lost a parent that day and over 1,600 people lost a spouse or a partner. I can't even begin to know the pain involved for the friends and families of those who suffered and died. But I still feel the most intense, personal and profound grief I have ever known. It isn't a brotherhood, patriotic fellow countryman type grief, otherwise it wouldn't feel so lonely.

If I did get all tied up in the debates surrounding 9/11, I believe it would help distract me from this sadness.

What I think about most are the rescuers. The firefighters, police officers, paramedics, port authority officers, World Trade Center security staff. And the decisions made on that day.

I was recently at a fire extinguisher safety class and the firefighter speaking to us, explained that it's so easy to second guess why a parent would come running out of a burning house, completely forgetting the child left inside but that the smoke and chemical fumes, the darkness and panic and instinct that overwhelms a person, can easily leave one incapable of logical thought and decision-making capabilities.

I can only imagine but it seems to me the first thought on almost any one's mind in the towers or at the Pentagon that day must have been 'get out of the building.' I imagine these people found their feet and hands doing things beyond logical thought. Running faster than they thought possible, breaking down doors, tearing through the wall of a stuck elevator, carrying the disabled, pulling terrified co-workers down the stairs, throwing themselves out the windows as a last resort, anything to escape the fire and destruction all around them. Anything to get away, to just get out.

But the rescuers went in. They went running in the doors, up the stairs, straight into the smoke and the dark and the toxic fumes that everyone else was running away from. They ran against the flow of humanity, against the instinct of fear and self preservation. They ran in. My hands tremble when I think about this. I know I couldn't do it. I am in awe of such behavior. I cannot get over what they did that day. Each and every one. All that survived and all that did not.

I wish I could thank them enough, the men and women of our country who make rescue their work, the courageous members of our military. I stop by a couple of local fire stations and leave flowers, I say thank you. I shake the hand of a war veteran and express my gratitude, but it feels empty and falls short of what I am trying to say. I really don't think it can be accurately or adequately said. And if it can be, I don't think it can be said often enough.

That day and the days and weeks that followed, as we tried to process what had happened, I noticed people handling it in a variety of ways. Some people painted their roof like the American flag, others stopped by fire stations and police stations with food and flowers to show support. Some joined the military, some re-enlisted. I remember the Veteran's Day assembly at my children's elementary school later that year. My children and their class mates sang the songs of each branch of the military and during the songs, members of the audience who were active duty or retired military were to stand during the song of their branch of service. I sobbed. It was so helpful and touching the shift that swept our country following the attacks. It soothed my heart. But I remember thinking this was an opportunity for personal change. There was a lot of room for such thinking. Unfortunately there still is.

It's been six years and my life has changed some and I'm grateful, but it hasn't changed nearly enough. I so wanted to use this national tragedy to prompt something positive in my own world, in my heart. I wanted to be able to look back and know that in the midst of our national recovery, I gained a new perspective. That I would no longer fall for my usual and age old pitfalls of behavior that have never served me well, and then consequently did not serve those I love well. After September 11, 2001 I wanted to never be the same.

I'm still working on it. I haven't given up. I'm getting there and want to remember today with reverence for what was lost and with hope with what is ahead.