On Sunday during the Children's moment, I shared a story about the aftermath of 9/11 and how the very rich and very poor came together to serve those who were cleaning up the site of the WTC tragedy. It's been 11 years since those terrible days, and I didn't even know anyone who was hurt/killed in the attacks, and yet I still choked up talking it. I couldn't hold back a few tears, and I had to pause during the story so I could get myself together. As I said to a friend lately, everyone touched by a tragedy, even those tenuously connected, experiences long lasting effects of it. I think I wasn't the only one in that sanctuary on Sunday who felt the continuing weight of that tragedy.
Today on FB, I merely posted "I remember, I remember, I remember." There's so much I remember of that day - sounds, and conversations, and startling images - but what I most remember is the shock at the horrific reality we all suddenly inhabited. Suddenly the world was darker, or maybe it had never been as light as I thought it was. It was like a bubble around me had popped and left in its wake the realization that the world was dangerous and that mortality was the rule rather than the exception. I was only 17.
The difficult thing to admit in the days afterwards, was the fact that what America experienced on 9/11/01 was what many countries all over the world had already been living through. The desire was to say "THIS IS THE WORST TRAGEDY EVER" and "NO ONE HAS EVER EXPERIENCED ANYTHING LIKE THIS" or "NOTHING WILL EVER BE THIS SAD." But those statements are completely untrue. It was a terrible tragedy and it's exact likeness will never be repeated and the whole day will be forever (at least for me and the generations that have preceded me) drenched in sorrow. But categorizations of "worst" and "nothing like this" and "never" are unhelpful and dishonest and they smack of competitive sorrow. And that is unnecessary. As I'm learning in the aftermath of my own tragedy, platitudes and comparative suffering have no place in our language. The best that we can really do is speak truthfully about the sorrows that we undergo.
I imagine that survivors of the WTC & Pentagon attacks are a bit out of phase today, lost in terrible memories, in triggering conversations. And if I knew any of the survivors, I'd like to imagine that I would find them in their haze and sit/stand with them and say "Today is a bad day. I'm sorry. I love you." Because really, what else is there to say? Nothing. I may be projecting, though.
The weather has started to cool down and yesterday when I let the dog out to relieve herself, I stood in the chilly morning air. And felt a stabbing thrust of GRIEF. The dog trundled about in the grass as I closed my eyes and tried to figure out what had triggered me and I realized that it was the cold air. Just that. Because last year, when it started to cool down, we were on the downhill free-fall into Cliff's trial/sentencing/conviction. And last year at this time, I was in the throes of anxious panic, of nights sleepless with fear, dreading the relentless passing of days. The cool air reminds me of the suffering that had already begun and the suffering that was about to shatter my life apart. I imagine that the survivors and victim families have experiences like this, days that lead into September and down the rabbit hole again to dark and rending memory.
I experience my own selfish moments when I want to say that my tragedy is the WORST tragedy ever, that NO ONE will ever suffer like I have, that no one's life will EVER be as sad as mine. But I know that's not true. Mostly, what I need is someone to sit near me when I'm in a haze of triggering grief and say "Today is a bad day. I'm sorry. I love you." No platitudes. No explanations. No prayers. No scripture. Just presence and acknowledgement.
Memories sink down into your bones and sleep and wake in fitful starts and stops, ever present but never constant, silent passengers that grab hold of you and grip tightly and then suddenly release you again. Time passes and experiences accumulate, but some memories will never loosen their hold upon you. We know that because of 9/11 and the national mourning that we all participate in it. And some of us know it because we carry around the hidden wounds of un-commemorated personal tragedies.
We remember. We remember. We remember.