With Us

Re-posting for the umpteenth time because it was the first thing I read after that day, after that blur of a day and the two-three weeks that followed, that didn’t feel like a fucking greeting card, that made any kind of sense to me at all:

As we approach the Brooklyn Bridge, a ferry pulls in to the pier, calling for passengers to Jersey City. That’s where Don lives. We both stop, frowning, and for a moment we just stand there together as others pass us with their heads down, concentrating on going. We don’t want to leave each other. Without each other, it’s just us by ourselves. It seems strange and worrisome, and I sense that he wants me to go with him so we can stick together still, but I also know he knows I have to go north and finish the walk, that it’s important for both of us to get to our homes. All of these thoughts come and go and we don’t say any of them aloud. We shake hands, wish each other the very best of luck, although it’s not a day with much of that. Don heads back towards the pier. I turn back to the hill ahead of me. I don’t turn around. It’s just me now, going home.

We reach for this easy stuff, all the time. My Facebook feed is being overtaken with images of bald eagles superimposed onto the Twin Towers by people who were thousands of miles away when the planes struck. I got angry at it back then; I am angry at it now. It’s so easy, the treacly songs, the easy post-and-repost remembrances. We were Forever Changed by this terrible thing that happened. Every word of that annoys me because no, we weren’t, and we aren’t we anyway.

(I think I get so angry at the easy remembrances because I envy the sense of safety people now mourn as having been ripped away. I envy their former obliviousness to the randomness of bad fortune.)

Those for whom 9/11 was just a particularly compelling TV show, for whom the community prayer vigils were fan conventions for America, who were happy to wave their flags and paint their chests red, white and blue and beat up on Sikh shopkeepers? They weren’t altered by it, not really. Three to six weeks later they stopped going to church again, or quit calling their parents, or started snapping at their kids, because that’s how we’re built.

We are prone to grand declarations — remember how snark and irony were going to be So Over? — that have no hope of coming true. We make wild promises we have no hope of keeping, and get angry when someone reminds us of the words we spoke so rashly, of the vows we made in moments of clarity. Full of excuses as to why we didn’t live up to our best image of ourselves, the one we invent to keep from going mad when something terrible happens. Like a couple of planes slamming into a building. Or a gunshot.

Change doesn’t happen with a break, or a leap, or a plane crash. The shock isn’t what alters you. It’s the grinding down, afterward, the every day scraping forward and forward and forward until the skin’s rubbed down to the bone. It isn’t fun and it isn’t set to music and it certainly can’t be reduced to a 15-minute ceremony in front of a statue once a year. It’s every day. It sucks.

You tell me, though.What choice do we have?

Giffords was broken on that day, and she’s broken now. I’m broken, too, and so are you. Every day breaks us in a different way. But broken is not the same thing as dead, and if you’re not dead, you’re alive, and if you’re alive, you can do something. That’s not courage; it’s just what you do. You wake up. Something’s sore. Your head hurts. You don’t want to do what you have to do today. You don’t want to talk to humans. There’s so much weight that it feels like you can’t do it anymore. It’s pointless. It’s unmanageable. It’s awful. You can’t do it. You know, deep down in your stomach, that you simply can’t do it anymore. It’s impossible.

You get up anyway.


10 thoughts on “With Us

  1. As someone who was in Manhattan that day, and still works here every day, I can’t tell you how angry I get every September 11th — not at bin Laden or the attackers, who are dead and gone, but at my fellow Americans, who have made this day into an excuse for jingoism, self-pity, xenophobia and oneupmanship.
    We were not the first to ever be attacked, nor were we the first to suffer, but if you listened to American politicians, pundits or country-western songwriters, you’d never know that. “American Exceptionalism” now means the right to be exceptionally mawkish and self-regarding, and it’s a disgusting, embarrassing, adolescent spectacle.
    You said, “Change doesn’t happen with a break, or a leap, or a plane crash,” but in this case, it did change us, mostly for the worse. Perhaps the best symbol of that time was the cynical call of our so-called leaders to show our patriotism by “going shopping.”
    I mean, after that, what kind of person could take any of this spectacle seriously?

  2. I wasn’t in NY or anywhere near it on 9/11, but I have to agree vehemently with the above.
    9/11 was “special” to the USA in that we traditionally haven’t been exposed to the rest of the world. (There was Pearl Harbor, but Hawaii is so far away and so different that we forgot about that long ago. Even the birthers have figured out that Hawaii isn’t part of the US). We forget that we are in a global economy where even events that we had nothing to do with can cause severe problems for us – but unfortunately the link from cause to effect isn’t an easily perceived palpable object.
    So we spend our money on schlock just because it has 9/11 stamped on it. Anyone want a 9/11 Margarita maker?
    In his speech today (admittedly in the constraints of needing to deliver a nice commemoration speech) Obama talked about how one even can’t make us change our way of life. Of course, there was no mention of how we have given up our liberties, spent our money on schlock, let the fear of 9/11 strangle consumer confidence (even though the DJI and other stock indexes were already in free-fall since a few months after Bush was sworn in. They then showed a drastic drop that quickly recovered – hardly a blip on the radar).
    Here’s an economic idea for revitalization. What if all the money spent on 9/11 rip-offs were spent on something that mattered? Expand it that we all occasionally pay a trifling buck or two for something because it is cute – only to enjoy it for a few minutes before discarding it (think of the more expensive children’s toys that look great on TV but quickly become stale in a few minutes. Sea Monkeys anyone? up to expensive toys that look good on TV but have very little you can do with them in real life.)

  3. now we are just milking the tragedy porn. i think now that GWFUCKINGB is gone, we can MOVE ON! grumble. i’m on the new yorkers side. my danish epal got lots of pictures in NYC of the memorial. now i don’t have to see it.

  4. What if we could take the pity and the irritation and use that to make the vows come true?

  5. In line with how trivial we actually take 9/11 when it means paying attention:
    News video of Romney sitting down with a veteran who asked Romney his opinion of same-sex marriages? Of course, Romney gave his answer (totally oblivious that the man was there with his recently wedded male partner). But what amazed me was that before answering, Romney asked the guy where he served. On the answer of Nam and the years, Romney launched into a spiel that that would be about the time that he was draft deferred and out of the country… Knowing the gut wrenching many went through about their draft, can’t imagine the cluelessness of someone to then share that they were draft deferred.
    When asked if Obama or Romney deserved the credit for killing of OBL, 15% of Ohio Repubs answered Romney and 47 % weren’t sure.http://www.politicalgarbagechute.com/15-of-ohio-republicans-really-very-stupid/

  6. Sidebar: I was at orotund zero today, about 330 in the afternoon and I saw the most amazing thing. All the major networks had vans on Vesey Street in a little corral thingy right to the north of St Paul’s Chapel, so that the site was behind them as they broadcast and the edge of Freedom Tower etc would be in the background.
    Fox was at the westernmost end right against church street. So Shepherd Smith was trying to film his segment and there were dozens of regular people that kept heckling him! Saying stuff like “Fox News Lies! ” and he was totally losing his shit! He finally turned around and screamed “FUCK YOU” and stormed back to the broadcast van…
    That was beautiful.

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