Live On – September 11 and Afterwards
At ten years old, I was no stranger to grief. Having experienced the death of several beloved pets, one grandparent and elderly friends and neighbors, I had known the baffling uncertainty of why God would take these people, these things away. I had known the trailing of hot, unbidden tears on my cheeks. I had known the stale waft of funeral flowers masking the smell of reheated coffee and death. I had known the somber shaking of hands and hugs and waiting in line to gaze on the face of someone who would never again gaze back.
So, at the death of my great-grandfather in 2000, I was now familiar to the rituals of funerals and death. I understood mortality and for the first time in a few years, I was part of the family of the deceased.
But I’m not writing about all that.
No, the part of that time that I remember the clearest was during the funeral, in between visitation and a memorial time. The kids (primarily my fourteen year-old sister, cousin and I) were all shown to a small side room with a TV and games and toys. We were given time to watch a movie and let the adults have some time with each other. My sister and I began giggling at the absurdity of E.T and some private joke we had just concocted. As we laughed and joked and began to lighten the atmosphere of our little space, my cousin whipped around dramatically and snarled at us, “How can you be laughing? You’re not supposed to laugh. Great Grandpa’s dead! That’s wrong!”
She continued to bury herself in a shade of brooding sorrow and anger at our apparent impertinence and breaking of code. We both were a bit taken aback, but brushed off her outburst, marking it as a part of her tendency to be over dramatic. My sister and I were sad, and we had payed our respects and cried and mourned. But we also knew that life went on, that factors would affect our attitudes and emotional states and that, in the end, we were children and it was permissible for us to find some joy.
America, do not get trapped in the pitfall of perpetual grief.
I am often worried when long-standing anniversaries of pain come up on the calendar. I do what I know to be right and good – I pray for those involved, I reflect on the events, I take time to thank God for His provision and care. But I also worry for those who lock themselves in dark rooms and refuse to smile and self-flagellate with solitude and blackness.
For the ten-year anniversary of September 11, I did not initially feel any connection to the day and the events. I know people who were directly involved in the attacks, particularly George Sleigh who was on the 91st floor of the North Tower. His story is unbelievable, and could only be told today thanks to an Almighty God. During the events, I was old enough and smart enough to understand some of what was going on and understand the gravity of the situation, and to feel fear. I have every reason to feel a very close, personal connection with the events. Then why do I not feel the same grief?
Because in that time, I felt God. In that time, I felt joy.
I remember walking into my sixth-grade classroom after lunch and finding most of my peers missing, gone home. Teachers tried to explain what was happening, and classroom TVs were all tuned to the news, the towers smoking and burning over CNN. I was one of few who stayed the entire school day. No one demanded I be terrified, no one made me cry. That evening, my family gathered on my parent’s bed and Mom and Dad did their best to tell us what was going on. They didn’t cower in fear, they didn’t act like anything was different. For them, it wasn’t different. Before the distaster, they trusted God to take care of us and protect us no matter where we were or what we did. After the planes crashed and our country was personally attacked by our enemies, my parents were aware of the increased danger. They knew that this event changed our country and our safety. But they never stopped trusting God with our health and safety. Instead of mourning, we prayed, remembered, helped others, and kept going.
This entry today isn’t about my great-grandfather, and it’s not about death. It’s about the people who have gotten stuck, wallowing in the darkness of September 11. Don’t forget the sacrifices and remember the grief. Remember the ones who are lost, and pray for the people who either lost loved ones or struggle with the fact they survived. But don’t dwell on it. Don’t lock yourself away and mourn again. If we forget to keep living and having light amidst the dark, the darkness will always win.
Even in the shadow of death and sorrow, a smile and laughter can be had without guilt. Better to lighten the heart with a thought than to risk getting caught in misery again.
A clumsy finish to what began as a whole piece, but in the lateness of the day and the distance of my heart, that’s really all I want to say.
When the terrorist attacks on September 11 happened, America changed. Policies, ideals, beliefs all changed. But that change all feels like such a distance memory, doesn’t it? We adapt so well to change but sometimes we refuse to acknowledge how versatile we are. Mind you, I don’t want to seem like I’m downplaying what happened on that day. I know people are still hurting and may never quite heal. But all I know how to do is keep living as I have been, and keep praying for our leaders and our friends and our neighbors and the strangers. I get up in the morning, I put my pants on one leg at a time, I make coffee and I write a poem about the spotted apple on my kitchen table.
Is it wrong of me to feel like I was detached from September 11? Is it wrong of me to spend the day enjoying my time with others than in mourning and remembrance? I don’t believe so. If we panic and cower in fear and refuse to leave the house or get on a plane, our enemies have won a small victory. If we live like trapped animals, we live a cursed existence.
May we never forget ten years ago, America. May we never forget to keep living.
Hear George’s Story in his own words, courtesy of Parkside Church: http://www.parksidechurch.com/news-events/blog/2011/8/remembering-911-george-sleigh-audio-and-video/
Note from the Author – I know we disconnected a bit there at the end, but getting back into the swing is harder than it looks. I’ll be posting again on Wednesday with either a piece of poetry (ah, rare treat) or another entry on the first weeks of school. Stay tuned and good night!