11 September 2004

On the Transmigration of Souls

Here's my thoughts on this. Somewhat garbled, as usual.

Some of us are trying to forget. No, not the facts, not the reality. We never will forget that, it's impossible. It's ingrained in us so deeply it's become part of our bodies. For me, it's quite literal. I have crap embedded so deeply in my lungs, the EPA now tells me, that it will never come out, (Mt. Sinai keeps coming out with better and better news about how "long-term health effects are widespread among rescue workers and survivors." No shit. They needed a federal grant to study that?) For me, what I struggle to forget, especially this time of year, is the intense details of the aftermath that crippled me emotionally for so many months afterward. Every time a plane flew overhead, I ducked. I would wake in the middle of the night with the stench of the pit in my lungs. I could smell it on my sheets, in my hair, in the pages of my journal. Even now, if I concentrate, I can bring that smell back. I try not to, because it makes me sadder than words. The sadness I can handle. But it also makes me numb, comatose, anxious, weepy....all those classic PTSD symptoms that still crop up, though a little less every year.

For me, the real goal is to forget. Is for 9/11 to pass by almost unnoticed. I will always know the facts of what happened. But one day I want to be able to commemorate it with my children the way Jenny and I called her children outside and away from the horror of the television we could not turn on and Rain could not turn off downstairs in the basement.....by going outside, and picking the season's first apples from the orchard. My hope is that my children will remember and think of 9/11 the way I think of Pearl Harbor--that they know something horrible happened that day, something that changed the world forever, but that they know it as ancient history, without any bitterness towards the people who did it just because their faces looked different or they were on the other side. I hope they remember it as the moment we all stood together and said, "No more," and that the story ends very differently--that the end result was the same, that the world was changed forever, but without knowing that countless thousands more had to die before the change. I want the candles Jenny lit last night to be the last candles we had to light because of this. I want them to know their Uncle Danny, instead of having to light a candle for him in a park someday. I want my beautiful, blond, American student Jennifer Shecht to not dread the whole month of September because she happens to be Muslim, a choice she made because of the man she loved, not because she thinks Christian God is the enemy. I don't want to wake up three, four, a dozen times every night when the weather is perfect like this, wondering if the terror is real again, wondering if Terry is able to sleep too, wondering if Jason and Beura and LaFaye and Gene are all lying awake across the country with me, thinking the same thoughts. I don't want Lisa Beamer's kids to grow up different, part of that special club that nobody wants to be a part of.

Most of all, I want to wake up one morning and realize it is mid-September, that it's almost MaryAnn's birthday, almost the anniversary of the first day I met the man I'm going to marry, that I have to call Chloe and Jake and Robin and wish them l'shanah tovah (forgive me, I can't even spell it in English, let alone hebrew) and there are papers to grade from my freshman comp class and it's almost time to take the kayak in off the dock for the winter and start cutting back the lavender in the garden......and that's all. I want to wake up and it's the first of October and I haven't even noticed.

That's what I want.

I need to forget the anger, anger for me is poisonous.....so hard to figure out what's "righteous" anger and what's "all about me" anger......the grief still wells up, and that's okay. i know I won't forget the grief but in time be able to deal with it. I don't want it to remain what giuliani said that day (and he was right) "that it will be more than any of us can bear."
But he was also wrong.....it was more than any one of us could bear, but I saw in the following months a city, a nation, so strong because we were one. that's something I have not seen before or since.

Last night I did what I do every year, I put on Daniel's requiem mass, which he compiled for this occasion in October 2001. It's not a public recording, he made about a dozen copies for friends. It starts out with the silence between solemnly tolling bells and the rising voices of Arvo Part, soon mingled with sirens and confusion and voices both American and Arabic and eventually the bombs we dropped in Afghanistan--all pulled from the endless news tapes he has access to at NPR--and finally rising out of that confusion is Daniel's own voice. Not the voice of his mouth, that lovely jazz announcer's smooth subtenor with strange, rich, deep undertones that I always imagined came from smoking too many cigarettes but now know he inherited from his father--but the voice of his drums. Before anything else, Daniel is a drummer. I can't always place his sources when he weaves together CDs for me, in part because he is so skillful at the art of the segue and in part because he has a personal recording library as big as most radio stations, plus access to an actual flagship radio station....but this one time I knew that it was Daniel speaking. This was his own composition. These were his own words. This all takes place within the first fifteen minutes of an hourlong recording, but this is the part that undoes me much more than the choir of voices that eventually takes over, absolving everything, or the Episcopal mass in Daniel's own church, into which he boldly brought his DAT recorder for the memorial service that weekend, more than Brother Ray singing "America" or even Phil Woods playing an unaccompanied Star Spangled Banner to close out the CD, both mournful and triumphant on his sax. This is the section that tears me apart, because this is the only time Daniel has ever come close to admitting how he feels.

Much the way I wrote feverishly in my journal for weeks and Jenny painted layer after layer of watercolour with the kids the next day, the way countless families made love desperately in the nights following and god knows how many children were conceived in that darkness, Daniel understood that no matter how feeble the gesture, no matter how small or how untrained the talent or the product (and his was neither, the man has a gift beyond words) the opposite of destruction is creation, that the only way to steer our way out of this incredible darkness was to light one match, he set himself ablaze like a beacon and stood in the blackness for us to find our way home.

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