Visceral Memories

I didn’t plan on writing about 9/11 today. The media would seem to have the topic sufficiently covered. I did not personally lose a loved one on that day. But I did travel through the World Trade Center via the Path train from Brooklyn to Newark five years ago and again this morning. My husband and then-two-year-old daughter saw the second building fall down from Brooklyn’s Promenade. I was unable to go home to them that night five years ago since the City was sealed and then walked through the empty, smoldering City the next day making my way back to Brooklyn. For any in the New York area, the weather today is eerily reminiscent of five years ago — though I agree with a colleague who said that five years ago might have been even more brilliant. Perhaps for these reasons, winding my way this morning through the many World Trade Center visitors, police officers, and army officials made a powerful impression.

It goes without saying that other cities and countries have experienced — and some are still experiencing — atrocities similar to or worse than September 11. Knowing that intellectually does not eliminate my slightly sick feeling. Today’s New York Times op-ed page contains several essays from writers about terrorist strikes outside of the US– Istanbul, Nairobi, Madrid, London, Mumbai. The theme that seems to resonate in each is the need for the tragedy and loss to be remembered. I wonder whether those outside of the areas directly affected by 9/11 feel today’s anniversary deeply? Relatedly, though, what are we or should we be doing with the dread, the grief, the anxiety?

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4 Responses

  1. Frank says:

    I was immensely moved by the reading of names this morning at the site (broadcast on the radio). I think today is a day to reflect on the many lives lost.

    One of the most moving aspects of the reading was the short tribute each reader would give to the loved one (usually husband or wife) who had died. There were so many different ways of dealing with the grief–some solemn, some defiant, some emphasizing how much they missed the mourned one, some focusing on how much he or she had done for the world. Like the “Portraits of Grief” in the NY Times, the ellipticality of the tribute resonated with the tragedy of the lives so suddenly cut short. The diversity of the tributes also showed something great about America–that so many different types of people could live in (something approaching) harmony and could feel and mourn this loss together.

    I don’t mean by this that we can simply transmute the grief or anxiety into pride or strength of purpose. But we can try to take this day to open ourselves to the loss of others, and be the stronger and the more humane for it.

  2. Rumi says:

    I wonder if it would be possible to establish on-line communication with “global citizens” from other “civilizations,” e.g. Islamic, Hindu, Budhist, and so forth, about what are their nation’s or religion’s or ethnic group’s most painful days of mourning.

    Perhaps we start with law professors most open to the wider world from a variety of countries across the globe.

    Perhaps we can let those among “the others” most predisposed to dialogue across culture barriers know that we wish to share stories about our collective tragedies. Perhaps we might even say we are sorry for their suffering and hope that some let us know they are sorry for ours. Perhaps we might even apologize for actions “our group” did that today we judge wrongful and be open to receiving apologies for wrongs “our group” experienced.

  3. Jeff says:

    Please let Rachel know that millions of people cried that day and were many miles from NYC. Those of us lucky enough to get phone connections to our families in NYC shared their personal horror as it occurred. My nephew’s wife came out of the subway to work across the street from the twin towers only to see people jumping to their deaths right above her. She returned to the subway and was in shock when I tried to speak with her. My son and I shared the experience simultaneously via a two-hour phone call with both of us pinned to CNN, he from Minnesota, me from Wisconsin. Call waiting allowed a call from Australia to get through to me. There was a terrified voice of a close friend on the other end. “What is happening in your country? My God! What is happening?” Mass murder is a part of the history suffered by my own family in numerous generations. People outside of NYC do feel today’s anniversary deeply. Most important is your well formulated question asking what should “.. .we be doing with the dread, the grief, the anxiety?” There are many answers to that proposed by many people through the ages. Many people believe that the most important thing is to teach about these things to our children. Mass murders and genocides continue throughout the world in Africa and recently in Asia and Europe. They appear to never end. My wife teaches a course on Genocide and Justice to high school students in Glendale, Wisconsin. I spend one session each term sharing my knowledge of the murder of my own family in the Holocaust. Teach children Rachel, lest they forget. Teach them about 911. Teach them about massacres. Teach them to be vigilant about the time tested warning signs of impending disasters such as these. The warning signs are usually there, but people forget them. They can’t be allowed to forget.

    In response Rumi’s words. I believe I know the man who chooses to use Rumi as a pen name. He is a good man with good intentions, but it appears that he misunderstands a fundamental difference here. I say “appears” because his emphasis on our need to seek cross-cultural understandings and to ask for forgiveness cannot possibly be the stand-alone answer to 9/11. It would lack the necessary incorporation of multiple responses. I heard a similar misunderstanding expressed by a very few immediately after 9/11/01. They were sure that we must have somehow deserved to have almost 3,000 of our people killed. “After all, why would this tragedy have happened unless we Americans deserved it? We must be guilty. That is why it happened. We must have mistreated Muslims. We must have had a bad foreign policy toward Muslim nations. We must have done this and we must have done that. Maybe we’ll learn now to share our wealth with poor nations”. Again, those thoughts are well intentioned, but wrong. Nothing, I repeat, nothing justifies the slaughter of almost 3,000 men women and children – not bad politics, not the lack of sharing wealth, not the lack of understanding. Nothing. Mass murder is mass murder. We need not be afraid of saying that there are rights and wrongs in our world Rumi. Not everything is merely a matter of perspective. It is fine to be introspective ala the 1960s, but foolish to not see absolutes. Of course fix foreign policy, of course share wealth, of course strive for cross-cultural understanding, but mass murder is mass murder. And, if you think appeasement is the answer, you are wrong. Appeasement never works. There are indeed bad people on earth. Believe it. They try to kill people. Believe it. The trick is to sort them out from their larger ethnic category and not become mass murderers ourselves.

  4. Rachel Godsil says:

    Frank, Rumi and Jeff,

    Thanks all for your comments. Frank, I was also touched by the reading of the names, and my train ride home yesterday was equally moving — even more people were quietly standing at the World Trade Center site and a string quartet was playing mournful music. A sad but lovely tribute. Jeff, I read Rumi to be making a different point: that others have experienced similar horrors and that it is critically important that Americans not become solipsistic about our own. I agree that no act by the US justifies mass murder of Americans — but I also think Americans, myself included, have an obligation to do much more than we have to protect against the killing of innocents elsewhere.