9/11/11

I doubt today will ever lose its bite


I remember being out to dinner a handful of years ago with my sisters and brother in law on this same difficult day of the year; a usually jovial and spirited group, not one of us was ourselves, and it didn't take long for the conversation to turn to what we knew was pressing on us all.  One thing I remember of significance in our discussion that evening was our agreement that nothing in the years that had passed between then and that terrible morning on September 11th had done a thing to blunt the violent impact of its anniversaries.  We wondered then how the distance of so many years could be so totally impotent in buffering us from feeling an empty ache in our chests, and the same degree of repulsion, year after year.


Some networks this morning aired the unfolding of it all in New York, it featured simultaneous to-the-minute clips from hundreds of vantage points in the hours that spanned the first tower being struck, and the second's collapse.  I watched it all the way through this morning as I did ten years ago, mesmerized, just the same now as I was then.   


When I was in my teens I would occasionally go on the job with my mom's boyfriend into the city.  We'd leave late in the night, and I remember him wearing a perpetual smile, in part because his normally grueling 3.5-hour commute downtown (each way...I kid you not) from Connecticut where we lived, took a lightening fast 2 hours instead; but I think it was mostly the kid in him that still reveled in his having license as a network engineer to rip into the walls and pull up the floorboards of offices (like the ones Merrill Lynch had in the twin towers), and do so with impunity.  


I remember then, and in every subsequent trip having a unique discomfort with the awesome height of those towers.  Unlike the Empire State Building, where I always felt comfortable on the observation deck, to my mind perhaps, the towers breached an instinctual altitude threshold, defying a limit that I trusted anything man-made to withstand.  


In my own base form of exposure therapy, I once decided to approach the floor-to-ceiling glass of the tower and press my face against it to get perspective; to face my fear.  I remember then, for a split second, I was struck with a genuine paralysis.  I was also struck by an almost "affectionate" appreciation for that seemingly impenetrable glass which, when I finally managed to force myself to look down, revealed that seemingly endless slab of stitched-together steel which seemed to tenuously anchor me in the air.   


That memory drove an even deeper sympathetic horror for those in the towers who, on that morning, facing scorching heat, confusion, and carnage, made the last human decision they would ever make and stepped out into the open air, off the edge, to the ends of their lives.  I myself can't imagine anything that would cause me to willingly move toward that massive window in my memory if it were missing.  Yet there they were, in droves, stealing back their final decision to die as they chose.   I pray I'll never see anything again in my life that will match the heart-wrenching scenes of those men and women who, maybe out of love, maybe out of a basic want for companionship during their last terrifying moments alive, stepped out off the tower ledges in tandem, clutching one another's hands to their ends.


I'm now familiar with those scenes of that mornings nightmare; but that familiarity does nothing in the least to numb its effect on me.  And today, despite all the life I've been so fortunate to live in-between, the tragedy and remembrance cuts with the same violence and forces me to the same confusing heights of both fury and sympathy; a chronobiological nightmarish memory of a day that will continue to have implications on me, and us all, to the very ends of our own lives.


This year however, for a number of reasons, I've been thinking about the shape of those implications – much of which have been molded by our own hands – through a different lens, one that has me wondering whether we as a nation have, in our actions since, properly honored our dead?  


I wish I could know if they'd be satisfied with our vengeance, or our remembrance in their honor?  Would they be surprised by the depth their deaths have touched us all, or the ferocity with which we've shaken the world in their names?  While we could never truly know the answer to that question, I find myself at a loss to even speculate.


A 17th century English poet penned one of my favorite quotes when he wrote that "Living well is the best revenge".  The very thought applied to this national challenge seemed blasphemous.  Still, that quote keeps nagging at me, and it does offer some strange sense of relief-in-clarity when considered against the backdrop of such graphic hate-inspiring loss (of the kind we'll see until we can't anymore this next 24 hours).  


Now I don't mean to suggest for a moment that we ought to ignore, or have ignored any threats of a similar nature to our nation in favor of living in national hedonic bliss; but the idea of running this violent treadmill of increasingly lethal international retribution doesn't sit right either.  Many would have an entirely defensible point in pointing out that the actions taken, which were given energy-to and cascaded from that fateful day, required a far more advanced calculus than divining the collective wishes of its dead.  


But today, in remembrance of all those we lost, that question looms larger on my mind than any other, and I feel a sense of duty to question "what would they want us to do now?".


Christian Hunter
Austin, Texas