I did not intend to spend almost the entire weekend watching 9/11 documentaries on the various major channels. Btw, KERA, which I mentioned in a previous post, is our local PBS station. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is why the fascination when there are so many other horrible things that go on in the world?
1) It is different when it is on your own country’s soil. Also, NYC is a symbolic city that represents Ellis Island and the development of our country. It is where you go to make it. It has been visited, at least vicariously, by about everyone in the world. You could say that about other countries’s major cities too, but I will transgress into American Exceptionalism a bit and say that because of what Ellis Island represents to the rest of the world, Bring us your tired, hungry, etc, that NYC is different. I don’t particularly like big cities, but I can appreciate the good things about them. Even with a person’s identification with their own state within our country. we also have a national identity, including those who have come to question it’s reputation.
One of the (paraphrased) quotes from this weekend sticks in my mind, ‘Americans can feel isolated and superior to the rest of the world. 9/11 humbled us and made us consider how other parts of the world think.’
2) It was televised. The first plane trained the cameras on the twin towers so that everyone saw the second plane hit. We were glued the whole day. Most of the anniversary coverage was about the twin towers instead of the downed in Pennsylvania Flight 93 or the Pentagon because we all experienced it with them on TV. Shared cell phone calls connected us more closely with the other two flights, however.
3) The loss of the first responders when the towers fell. Much of the coverage centered around their voluntary deaths. Greater love hath no man than to give up his life for his friends.
4) The prolonged nature of the day. The delay in knowing you will probably not survive, and the hour or less till it happened is so excruciating to think about. Listening to the 9/11 calls from above the impact brings it right to your room, “I’m going to die aren’t I?” in a panicked voice. “No, try to think positively.” Hysterical crying. Lord have mercy on her soul.
5) The size of the buildings that came down. Watching the flaming holes, relatively small compared to the rest of the building, made by huge jets, and then the unthinkable collapse, was incomprehensible to the direct witnesses, who were so many because it’s New York City. The look of shock in the witnesses faces was universal.
Along with this is the amount of debris and devastation.
6) The unbelievably focused, patient, deadly intention, planning, and unthinkable success of the hijackers.
It was jolting when after KERA’s sensitive documentary on people’s spiritual journeys after 9/11, they immediately air a show on finance. They had talked about how people got in touch with the importance of love and kindness over materialism, then, money starts floating through the air to promote the next show. Yuck.
I remember being told as a teenager after Christian summer camp that it’s hard to go back to the world after these mountain-top, spiritual experiences. Being confronted with death isn’t exactly a mountain-top experience, but it is a very spiritual one. Our culture tells us that we have to put these things behind us and re-engage with the world’s concerns. Materialism and entertainment seem to be at the top of this list. The family members interviewed on NBC last night demonstrated slightly different degrees of separation from 9/11. What happened 10 years ago was still very vivid to all of them, but one lady in particular seemed to be having a hard time coping. She has remained immersed in the sadness of it.
I wonder if there is a way to not despair and to not get distracted by the world’s concerns at the same time. The Fathers tell us to keep death in our minds at all times. Not a morbid fascination, but an awareness that this present circumstance has more dimensions to it than the one we often get caught up in. Somehow death can illuminate these other dimensions. In remembering those who have passed on, hopefully we can see clearer those who are still with us.
One of the most touching reflections on the KERA show was about the people who jumped out of the windows to escape the fire. How their holding hands with others on the way out was a picture of how humans can connect and find love and support amidst the most desperate circumstances. Another person said their leaving the fire in that manner demonstrated a choice to be placed in the hands of God instead of the fire.
There was also a discussion on religious tolerance. One priest generated controversy by wanting to share the pulpit with other religious leaders. I don’t agree with sharing the pulpit in Church, but I do believe God cares for everyone and that he will probably save, or at least give more people the opportunity to be saved than our exclusive claims can suggest. I think at least Orthodoxy best explains and contextualizes what is more commonly experienced. 9/11 brought people in touch with death in a unique, attention-getting way. People felt more connected with the departed in their efforts to save, rescue, and recover people they cared about more that day than they realized. Now, how to remain in that awareness.
Of course we can’t totally forget about money, and even happier thoughts. Perhaps the re-designers of Ground Zero are finding the right balance. It looks like they are keeping the original craters where the twin towers stood empty with water curtains on the basement walls. People describe those sites as sacred and I agree that it shouldn’t be covered up. But they are building an even taller office building right next to it. This is an act of defiance that I agree with. It seems resurrectional to me. As did the two beams of light where the towers once stood that they displayed at the original memorial service. There is a proper way to think about money in context with love for others, but mostly I think finances are way too talked about. Lord have mercy.
I don’t want to give credit where credit isn’t due, but when I think of 9/11/01, I find that a sort of cryogenic process happened in my mind for whatever reasons. Everyone can remember where they were when this and other national tragedies occurred. The fact that I still feel in those same circumstances as 9/11 puzzles me. I was at home with my 6 kids. My youngest was 8 months old, and I haven’t had any more children since then. I’m still in the same home, though three of those kids don’t live here anymore, but they still do in my mind. I also remember two phone calls from that morning. My mother telling me to turn on the TV, and later walking into the living room to find the boys on the phone with their other mother. I am still haunted by the same feeling about both of those phone calls, and not because of what happened to the victims of 9/11.
We had our then new house re-appraised the other day. The guy included in his assessment, “for a house of that age”. What, it’s not new anymore? Our above ground swimming pool was new that year too. We had to replace the filter this summer and the lady said, “I haven’t seen one of those in years!” Wow.
Matt Lauer interviewed a few of the 9/11 victims’ children today, and I felt that they had a few things going for them. One, a nationally recognized and legitimized tragedy to explain their loss, what I believe to be the intercessions of their departed parents, and closure provided in part by Ben Laden’s death. Divorce is a much stickier situation. I read a book one time called, The Other Mother, about a lady who married into a widower’s family. She said it’s easier in her case because of the closure, even though you have to deal with never living up to a martyred saint. Divorce is not legitimized for obvious reasons.
In most stories, the shunned person gets killed or permanently put away. The mind wants closure. Living with other parents takes a sort of reinvention. I haven’t been able to do it, even after all these years. That person isn’t supposed to be the spouse who rejected you anymore. They’re this new person who happens to also be a parent to your children, so you’re supposed to be friends with them. Grown ups are supposed to be able to do this, and I know many who have. I can’t seem to move on. I can’t forget who they were, and still behave like. “Move on” is an interesting chapter in Bleak House.