Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reflections on the 10th anniversary of 9-11

Someone asked me about my experience of 9-11.  I live in the suburbs of New York City.  

I recalled how I had been in a PTA committee meeting that day, how one of the other women in the committee normally worked in the twin towers, how I watched her face as she watched the television and saw what might have been her co-workers jumping in a vain attempt to save themselves.  Her face was such a picture of horror!   It punctuated the horror on the screen, humanizing and deepening it for me.

We adjourned the committee and went home.  I, who never watch TV, watched the TV for the rest of the day.  I saw the towers fall at least a dozen times.  I heard wild rumors about what might be happening elsewhere.  I called my brother, who was cocooning with his newly adopted daughter, who he managed to get into this country only a couple of days before 9-11 shut down the airports.  I told him to turn on the TV.  When he demurred, because he felt too busy, I found myself almost at a loss for words to try to explain to him why he should turn it on -- and just kept repeating "Turn on the TV," though perhaps I managed to offer some clarification, because he did finally turn it on.  My ex, who I was still married to at the time, worked nearby.  I was very concerned for him as he walked to Grand Central Station, through that black cloud of smoke; and as he went back to work day after day, falsely reassured that the air was safe.

It was a very dramatic time for me.

And, yet, looking back on it, I find that I cannot bring back the sense of horror, loss, fear, and drama that pervaded my consciousness then.

Instead, what comes to me is the much greater horror that some in this country felt justified in visiting on the nation of Iraq in response to the events of 9-11: the unprovoked war, the overthrowing of a stable government and leaving a state of violent anarchy in which upwards of 600.000 people were killed, mostly civilians.  The deaths in the war on Iraq came on the tail of the 500,000 Iraqi children who died as a result of the embargo instituted at our behest after the first Gulf War.  In other words, the blood  of well over a million totally innocent people is on our hands -- a figure that dwarfs the number killed in 9-11 here in the USA.

And the people in Afghanistan and the mountains of Pakistan, who were allegedly hiding Osama bin Laden, when in fact he was in a totally different place -- people who we attacked repeatedly in a vain search for him -- what of them?

It is so easy not to notice suffering thousands of miles away.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own rather parochial view of events.  It is so easy to pretend that we are the ones wronged.  It is so easy to pretend that we were justified in causing these massacres of the innocent.

When I look at people commemorating the events of 9-11, I cannot see them.  I see instead the specter of the greater wrong, what we did elsewhere.

addendum of 9/12/12:

I find myself wary of telling my 9/11 story.  I feel my story -- and the stories of so many other people -- were abused.  Our trauma became a justification for visiting trauma on others.  I do not like my story being used this way.

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