I Dread This Day

11 Sep

Every year I dread the coming of September.  Part of that is due to the fact that I am a summer baby.  I was born in mid-July in the middle of a heat wave.  I imagine my mother cursed me throughout the final month of my fetal development.  To me, although September means better running weather, the turning of the leaves, the overabundance of apples screaming to be turned into apple sauce and pies, it also means the inevitability of winter.  Winter means layers, jackets, goose bumps, frozen fingers and toes, shorter days, frigid puddles topped with ice, snow stained with dog piss.  Winter is not my season.  Never has been, never will be.  But September also means another thing:  another year has passed since September 11th, 2001.

I dread the anniversary of the fall of the World Trade Center.  My mind always, without fail, calls up that photograph from the front page of The New York Times of the man plunging to his death, floors and floors of windows providing the chilling backdrop.  I think I will take that image with me to my death.  I recall the way I found out. My professor, in a voice cracking with emotion, told all of us from the New York City area to quickly call our families, to not be alarmed if calls didn’t go through, that the system was probably overloaded or failing.  All of a sudden I thought of my dad and grandpa who worked in the city.  Of my brother who had planned to fly out to Europe that very morning.  Of all my friends who had just moved to New York to go to college.  I remember sitting in the stairwell, in tears, on the phone with my mother saying to her that we must have done something wrong, that we must have created a world so horrible for some people that the only way they could communicate their anger and suffering was to kill thousands upon thousands of innocent people.  I believed then as I believe now that in order to understand horror, in order to understand the unthinkable, we must look inwards.  Perhaps not as individuals, but as a nation.  We live in an interconnected world and although I would never borrow the language of victim-blamers everywhere by saying that we deserved what we got, because I do not believe that in even the tiniest of ways, I would say that what happened to us did not occur in a vacuum.  It was not random.  It was, at least in part, a reaction to decades of poor foreign policy and problematic international relations.  It was a clash of ideologies, of lifestyles.  It was so many things.

And through all of this the overwhelming emotion that I feel is not anger, it is sadness.  I can apply all of my pragmatism, my knowledge, my now years of hindsight but all of that is just a way to deal with the sadness I feel.  I feel sadness that, as my mom said to me the other night, that was my JFK moment.  It was the moment I will always remember.  It was the moment when the world became a little scarier, a little less fair, a little less predictable, a little more unthinkable.  It was the moment when everything I had read about the reality of the world as a whole was dropped on my doorstep.  It was the first moment in my life that I felt afraid.  I felt afraid and I felt a heaviness and a sadness in every single inch of my being.  Every cell, every drop of blood, every tendon.  I felt sad when I boarded a bus home from college a few days later and could still see the smoke billowing from the wreckage. I felt sad when I passed the town train station and saw the cars whose drivers never returned home from work to pick them up.  I felt sad when I saw the reaction of the American public change from unity to one of hatred, anger, fear, racism.  I felt defeated when my friend, who is of Iranian decent, reported to me that she was spit on outside of one of her classes.

And I hate what came next.  What this attack allowed us to justify.  What it has done to the international community.  I cringe at the knowledge that we feel the right to inflict our collective need for revenge on innocent families.  That we are putting countless people through the pain that we went through.  It makes me crazy that this led to companies like Blackwater, to the increased power given military contractors, to the amount of money spent on violence while people at home suffer.  It infuriates me that people will “Support Our Troops” while simultaneously voting for smaller government, for less money going to the support those men and women really need when they come home.  I shudder to think of the fucked up idea of patriotism that has been born from this tragedy and the many that have followed since.

All of the specifics that I just mentioned are actually not important.  You can agree with them or not agree with them.  They are my own very personal and unique way of making sense of it all.  But I guess the point that I am trying to make is that my feelings about September 11th are very complex.  I think we all have complex feelings.  I can feel sad about all the people that were lost while also feeling angry about what our reaction to the attack has wrought.  I do not have to feel one or the other.  This is not a game show where I only get to choose that which is hiding between door number one or door number two.  I feel everything.  But the thing is that, for me, September 11th is the only day that I allow myself to feel the sadness separately from all of the other conflicting emotions.  It is the day that I remember those horrible videos that replayed over and over and over again.  It is the day that I wake up and feel proud and lucky to call this city, this country, my home.  It is the day I allow myself to recall those abandoned cars, that Times photograph.  As I have said before, there is not an emotional pie.  An individual feeling sadness about an event does not mean that there is less room, less left of her, to feel other things.  It does not mean that she cannot also step back and place our actions as a country into the bigger picture.  Sometimes, for me, it is just important to remember, and experience, those most basic emotions we were born with.

I dread September 11th because I cannot rationalize my emotions, all I can do is feel them.  On September 12th I can return to the world of international politics, of national responsibility, of the implications of actions.  I can insulate myself through my experience, my intelligence, my pragmatism, my life.  But for today, I will be rolling with a pack of tissues and I will not apologize for that.

6 Responses to “I Dread This Day”

  1. Jamie Wallhauser September 11, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Beautiful Rebekah.

    • FranklyRebekah September 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      Thanks! And thank you for being such a great supporter.

  2. Nora Johnson September 11, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Thank you ,Rebekah….I can’t express myself as good as you did….Nora Godwin Johnson,R.N.

  3. Galser September 15, 2013 at 3:30 am #

    Far better thought out and less inflammatory than my response. I was an angry 17 year old firebrand of “we had this coming!!!!”. I didn’t believe that word for word, but I wanted to respond to the outrage in which people missed the fact you pointed out so wonderfully – “on the phone with my mother saying to her that we must have done something wrong, that we must have created a world so horrible for some people that the only way they could communicate their anger and suffering was to kill thousands upon thousands of innocent people.” Of course I wasn’t educated as I am now, and you found an amazing way to articulate some the actual emotions behind that, brilliantly. awesome.

    • FranklyRebekah September 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

      Thank you so much for your words! It’s funny because I think had the attacks happened one year earlier, my response would have been different. My ability to reason the way I did was due almost entirely to a teacher that I had my senior year in high school that said something along the lines of: things are never as simple as they appear. There is more than one side to every story and it is important to realize that the person on the other end is also human, and also has reasons, be they reasons we have access to or the ability to understand or not. I don’t know, I just really took that idea with me. It hasn’t necessarily made things easier to process or understand, but I think it makes me feel more like a person of the world rather than a person exclusively of the United States.

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