Merriam-Webster’s defines tragedy as “a disastrous event” resulting from misfortune or calamity (which is misfortune highly amplified). In this context, some may not consider September 11, 2001 to be a tragedy. Not because it wasn’t a disastrous event, but because it wasn’t an unfortunate event. Fortune had nothing to do with it. It was a calculated strike.
Remembering 9/11 as a tragedy, or an attack or as a pivotal historical event has not helped me process what happened.
I feel sort of empty inside when I think about it where it has left us globally. On the one hand, much has changed in the Middle East since 2001. I often think about the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, the revolutions in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and the cry for more democratic governments in Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, and Oman. Stories like these remind me that some events transcend differences and pull people together to seek fairness and justice. Sometimes I am filled with so much hope I feel like I could fill 100 sheets of clean paper with promise.
On the other hand, casualties are still a regular occurrence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Divisiveness has proved hard to disband, making U.S. troops still needed and stationed far and away. And reform in Egypt and in Tunisia has been a hard struggle. Stories like these remind me that some differences transcend events and drag people down in search of power and revenge. Sometimes I am filled with so much worry I feel like crumpling all those sheets of paper, ripping them up and lighting them on fire.
I haven’t figured out how to process all of this information and find balance between these two feelings.
Holy crap this is depressing.
And that wasn’t my intent when I sat my — what I thought was happy — ass down to write this. I am sure many others will be surmising the toll of this event in greater depth and with a wider scope. I will leave them to it. I don’t want to make light of the 10th anniversary of this momentous and horrific event, but neither do I want to sink in the mire of societal heartache. I want to heal. I want to cope. I want to feel. I want to hope.
And I want to remember.
The challenge with remembering is that it often leads to stepping in the aforementioned marsh of societal heartache, communal pain, and collective sorrow. In order to prevent from sinking, you have to hold onto a really strong tree with deep roots and a sturdy limb that stretches out over the swamp. For me, that tree is Yggdrasil (symbolically speaking) — the spiritual tree on which the universe physically hangs. Holding onto her, I can stick my feet in the marsh without fear of falling in.
I have been listening to the NPR series that features its oral history project StoryCorps. While StoryCorps is not limited to 9/11, it includes stories from people directly affected by or involved in the event. Their goal is to record at least one story for every person lost on 9/11. This is how I have been remembering September 11th for the last few years.
Here are few excerpts from some of the features StoryCorps narratives. Be sure to grab a box of tissue before you listen.
It’s not many people that the last words they said to their son or daughter was ‘I love you.’ And the last words they heard was ‘I love you’. So, that makes me sleep at night. — John Vigiano Sr. remembering his sons
She asked me if I would like to go spend my birthday at the Window the World, and I said, yes, I’d like that. So we all went there, the whole family. And during the night we stopped by the windows, and I said what a beautiful place. I feel like I’m up in heaven. It’s so pretty. And she said to me, Mom, I got you on the top of the world. — Ester DiNardo remembering her daughter the night before 9/11 (minute 7:06)
I asked if it hurt for him to breathe and he paused for a moment, and says, ‘No.’ He loved me enough to lie. … As the smoke got thicker, Rooney whispered, ‘I love you,’ over and over. I just wanted to crawl through the phone lines to him, to hold him, one last time. — Beverly Eckert remembering her husband
I didn’t know that something happened until I came in the living room and you were upset. You said there was something wrong with Pop Pop. It made me scared. I remember that Mikey told me that planes crashed, and he wasn’t coming back. — Frankie DeVito remembering his grandfather
You may be asking yourself (or rather me), “How is this not depressing? How are these stories not pulling you into the marsh?” I hold onto to my tree. And I really admire the people who have made these recordings. No matter how weepy I get listening to their stories, I simultaneously feel inspired by the bravery it took to give their sorrow voice. The stories themselves are powerful, too. Listening to how they are trying to heal has helped me heal. Listening to how they are trying to cope has helped me cope. And feel. And hope.
What about you? Have you made progress processing 9/11 over the last 10 years?