It is September 11th. And so it is the anniversary of an instantly historic tragedy. Because it has been ten years and perhaps because that wound opened up so many others in American society and beyond, there is somewhat more pomp and substance to the day’s commemorations.
I know that I am not alone in struggling with mourning. Walling-off grief is the coping mechanism I naturally turn to first. And ten years ago, I was working at a job for which that strategy is a professional imperative. So when this day comes, the shields go up. The events of that day are still so overwhelming, so outsized for one person to try to understand; hold the sorrow for; forgive, that rather than buckle under the weight of it, I often just turn away.
Worse, and here I confess the most petty truths of a real life. I always feel guilty and embarrassed about that day. Guilt is pretty common among those only indirectly touched by the losses that day. In the wake of such unique, unpredictable and senseless devastation it is impossible not to feel grateful and fortunate that your family was not caught in its ugly sweep. But then immediately it feels unfair to be joyous and relieved when others cannot be, may never be. But I am also embarrassed because September 11th caught me at my worst self.
We don’t wake up everyday “ready for history”, in a great frame of mind to welcome and accept any timeline-bending event that may occur –at least I don’t, though maybe we all should. But on that Tuesday in particular, I was not just self-absorbed, but self-pitying. I was running late with all the shame and anger and impatience that accompanies that, and I was devouring all my happiness with self-doubt and regret. And that horrible habit was so addicting that I was angry to have it interrupted; to have to replace my irrational angst with real fear; useful action; and my still-ineffectual attempts to understand how any human being –no matter how morally certain– can ever think their idea of ‘right’ supercedes another human being’s right to live.
I still feel horrible on this day every year. It is just not possible to reconcile all the emotions –empathy for all those who honestly, keenly and with deep love mourn; a blessing for everyone who has lost their life, or their life as they knew it, in those crashes and the conflicts they ignited; gratitude for those first responders and our all-volunteer military who did and still do what is necessary; fear and worry about what may yet happen; joy because it was a beautiful day, and I went outside to enjoy it.
What I took away from that blaring, terrifying moment and what echoes for me every year is the fearful, stubborn, bewildered phrase “I am not ready.”
I am not ready for hatred and violence to be the predominant acts in our world. I am not ready for civilization to slip free of its civility. I am not ready to give up on humanity. I am not ready for hope to extinguish.
And though these statements could amount to little more than petulant oratory, I believe that many people felt this way and out of the dust a country tried to draw together, individual to individual. We stumble and fail and backslide as humans do, because we are no more than that. However, I think we must remember that we are not ready to give up. And each of us should, each moment that we can, offer friendship and kindness, civility, humanity, hope to those around us. If we keep passing it around it won’t slip away.