Hiding from 9/11

Facebook is both a horror and a communication miracle. Most status updates have to do with the minutiae of our daily lives: comments on the weather, hangover declarations, to do lists, etc. Some touch on more meaningful subjects, like this one from my old friend Stan Laikowski:

It turns out that he is not. At least in our circles, many people of our generation are avoiding immersing themselves in the 9/11-themed offerings with which television, radio, and the internet are bombarding the public.

None of us thinks we ought to forget 9/11 or that the retrospectives are beneath us. Rather, much of them are simply difficult for us to experience again. And that is what we do when we watch footage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers, the fire and smoke reaching into the sky and across the horizon, and people running for their lives amidst dust and debris and across a landscape at once familiar and foreign–we experience it again.

Collectively, our 9/11 experiences have value, but individually, personally – that shit still hurts. And as wimpy as it may seem, some of us try to shelter ourselves from it by avoiding all those retrospectives. Unfortunately, our kids bring home assignments for which we must delve into our own retrospectives.

My specific response to Stan’s question and responses from another high school classmate, Michael Frank:
  • Beth Silverman Landau  No – I am too. And then my 13 year old came home with an assignment for which she had to interview one of her parents: Where were you? How did you find out? What was your reaction? Were you scared? How did it make you feel? So it’s time to revisit that morning anyway.
  • Michael Frank (….) And Beth….. it’s a shame that your kid is being put into a position where she may be forced to see her mom or dad get upset or sad and discuss horrible things…. it’s like they are already pre-conditioning our children to be afraid of what may or may not happen. Kids should be enjoying being kids. Not interviewing their parents about terrible things. Brainwashing at it’s worst…. What a bunch of shit that is….
As a teacher, I understand this type of assignment. They’re designed for the best reason: to create relevance for students who feel disconnected from this part of history. Unfortunately, unless students were personally affected, the relevance they find is somewhat superficial to them, even when they go digging with emotionally loaded interview questions that bring their parents right back to that awful morning.

Current middle school students can’t understand the emotional effects of 9/11 any more than we understood the emotional effects of JFK’s assassination. Raised post-Camelot, we grew up with a healthy dose of political cynicism. We understood the facts, but we didn’t internalize any of its emotional significance.

Most of our kids’ lives have been post-9/11. The existence of anti-American terrorism and our nation’s vulnerability are givens to them. For instance, the intense security at airports is annoying but not jarring to them.  Despite our descriptions and explanations, 9/11 is not shocking to them. It’s history.
How can they know what it’s like to watch a city that seemed so solid and impenetrable laid low, its once familiar landscape suddenly foreign, a war zone? A nationally recognized skyline that some of us saw every day, altered and mutilated?
Some interview questions push interviewees further into their own experiences: Did you know anyone who was in the attacks/escaped/died? Were you worried about a specific person’s safety? They seem to be fishing for sensational responses.
For the record, one of my brothers did live in Manhattan and spent time in that area for work, so my first reaction (after falling off a treadmill and thinking “this can’t be happening”) was “Where’s Josh?” a question fueled by the hyper-focused intensity spawned only by the most visceral of fears and accompanied by prayer so desperate it had no words. My body shook today as I tried to explain to my daughter what that had felt like. I cried.
Maybe it’s too soon for me for such probing questions. Maybe it’s still too fresh for some of us, especially if it is not yielding the desired level of relevance, anyway. And consider this – do we even want our kids to really understand what it was like? Isn’t middle school enough of an emotional roller coaster?

I am still avoiding 9/11 themed shows, articles, and broadcasts. I don’t need them to remind me of the tragedy of that morning; it’s already indelibly etched into my brain, retrospective or not.


    8 Comments on “Hiding from 9/11

    1. I thought I would too but found myself uplifted by the stories of what people have done with their lives post 9-11, how losing a loved one or rushing into the towers changed them forever. Many have suffered, that is the reality, but many have also triumphed. The 3000 deaths created not just 3000 narratives but it seems 300,000; stories of heroic acts at the time and stories of helping others since then. I was moved by the story of the family of a passenger on Flight 93. His love of sports encouraged the family to start a foundation that helps kids play sports they other wise could not afford to. The foundation requires community service in exchange for the help. The paying it forward concept creates an exponential number of experiences for others.

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    2. I was planning on avoiding the media and their 10th anniversary of 911 coverage for 2 reasons. One is my M.D.D. The other I talked about with my Dad at dinner Saturday. I don't want to get caught up in the 10th anniversary thing. Why are we so obsessed with the number 10? Was the 9th or will the 11th anniversary be less important. There's an extra high terror alert because it's the 10th anniversary, but it wouldn't be extra high if the media didn't put such an emphasis on it's being the 10th. I'm never going to forget the events that happened to the nation or some of the things that specifically happened to me that day. It just so happens that 9/11/01 was before I started taking meds. for A.D.D. and it's the only day I remember the date of a day I remember how the day went. (I hope that makes sense. Obviously I'm didn't major in English.)
      Yes. I wasn't planning to partake in the 911 offerings, but then I read this blog. 🙂 I don't know what the profile crap is so I'm picking anonymous, but this is Bobby B.

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    3. I am with you. My job requires me to pay attention but outside of work, I refuse to watch the replay of the attacks, to dwell on the horror. This morning, I'm going to a service at a firehouse for work. I will honor those who lost their lives. And then I'm going to go pick up my kids from my parents and spend the rest of the focusing on them. Because I can. And aren't we lucky we can still do that?

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    4. Steve – I know that 9/11-related shows & stories are positive for many people, which is why I'm not knocking them. Even a decade later, though, certain imagery drives me to a place of fury and infinite sadness that I have trouble shaking, and I am not able to view uplifting takes on 9/11 as anything other than manipulation. My interpretation is certainly cynical and may be highly inaccurate, but, simply put, I'm just not ready yet.

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    5. Bob (or shall we call you Anonymous now?) – I know what you mean about the importance of the 9th and 11th anniversaries. Sometimes it takes a word like “decade” to remind us just how quickly time has passed and how much time we've put between this tragedy and today.

      Sarah – we are immensely lucky that we can do that. I hope the service is meaningful for you and that you have a fabulous day with your family. 🙂

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    6. Very insightful and honest piece. I agree with you. I thought I would watch some of it, but I caught a documentary last night about two movie makers following firefighters that day, and then the twin towers were hit. You see a priest that the interviewer was speaking to pass away. I got really upset. Couldn't watch it. It makes me feel wimpy. But I'm glad a lot of other people feel the same way. Very much like some Vets who can't watch war movies. Traumatizing. Thanks for sharing your sentiments!

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