“This Isn’t The Kind of History I Want to Be Present For”

The above quote is from Sarah Bunting.

Every year around September 11th I reread Sarah’s essay. She was an eyewitness to the south tower falling and her story is one of the few pieces of writing I’ve ever come across that retains its initial power: the shock, horror and pain of her account assault me anew every year. But I’m also always moved by the camaraderie she describes, from her fast friendship with “disaster buddy” Don, who readers mounted a failed campaign to find, to the vendor who would only take $1 for a pair of flip-flops she needed to buy after walking 20+ blocks in three inch heels.

I was listening to NPR the other day and they interviewed a soldier who, fresh out of Harvard, signed up for the Army after September 11th. He said he thought there would be a mobilized effort, bringing out the best in America, like during World War II. Instead our government told us to take out our credit cards and shop, which he felt was disappointing. And it turns out, using our credit cards to shop was a disasterous plan in the long run.

What I like so much about the infertility community IS the camaraderie. We see the dust, the ash of disaster on each other’s tights and we respond. We offer to make banana cream pie for those down and out. We fly out from far distances to meet each other in person, to share tears, grimaces of knowing and horror stories of Amy Haibles.

I know lots of you also do a lot of work in your communities for different causes.

I don’t know if I have a point other than to say: it saddens me that the world seems less united than ever after 9/11. America has been considerably weakened by both the expense of wars fought ostensively for our security after terrorism and the economic collapse triggered by many things, but extreme spending was definitely one of the factors. The gap between the rich and everyone else widens every day.

I thought maybe after Bin Laden was killed a type of unity might return. But it hasn’t.

I was working in my office in London on September 11th. We had an upstairs neighbor at the time who lived above us. He was an American financial analyst who worked crazy hours. We would hear him get into bed about 2AM each night and he’d by gone by the time I left at 7 AM. So imagine my surprise on that terrible afternoon when I walked home and saw him at the door at 5 PM. We made eye contact and I saw the same terror, shock and despair in his eyes. “Some day we’ve had, huh?” I asked, lamely. “Yeah, just…terrible,” he replied. “Well, take care,” I nodded. “You too,” he shrugged.

I never spoke to him again.

And I think that’s what happens to everyone. We miss out on moments of real connection. And those moments of connection could make us stronger, more secure, more understanding. There will always be evil among us, but by connecting more, maybe we could drive it out more easily. And I mean as Republicans and Democrats and conservatives and liberals. I know I have readers who are both, just as I read blogs by both, and also by Canadians, Swedes, Brits, Indians, Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians.

Do you think by connecting with others from other backgrounds we foster more unity? Or are the issues driving us all apart so deep and bitter that we’ll never get beyond them? How do you feel this September 11th? More or less hopeful?

A plaque for a pregnant local woman who perished on Flight 93. And her story, which made me cry.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to ““This Isn’t The Kind of History I Want to Be Present For”

  1. Mo

    This is such a thoughtful post. I wish I had an eloquent answer for you, but I was born an live in the middle of such a messy microcosm of this crap that I don’t feel I can really comment. I ooze cynicism when it comes to this stuff, because I’ve been hurt by it so often.
    I just say this:
    My personal opinion is that what drives people to this madness is religious fundamentalism. I’m not just talking about Islam. The Christian and the Jewish fundies do just as much damage (though they blow themselves up less often).
    I don’t think there is hope for true unity until religion is no longer a divisive issue, and Spaghetti Monster knows when that’ll happen.
    I was in Philly when 9/11 happened and I saw the second plane crashing into the tower live on TV. It was a terrible thing to witness.
    It was even more terrible for me, since I’d witnessed tragedies just as horrendous, that hit just as close (if not closer) to home, so the feeling of terror was familiar to me. I knew what was coming.
    I’m not trying to downplay the horrors of that day, don’t get me wrong.

    On the day that George W. got on that carrier with the mission accomplished banner there was a suicide bombing in tel aviv. Three people were killed. One of them was the first man I ever truly loved. I remember raging at the news stations in the U.S. They were all covering that freaking lie of a banner when PEOPLE DIED that day.
    That was just as big a tragedy, because every time an innocent person is killed due to fundamentalism and extremism, whether it’s a hate crime, or a suicide bomber, or a school shooting, it’s a tragedy. In that case, American militarism won over tragedy.
    What hurts most is the extremes.
    I’m going to leave it at that so I don’t get tempted to write an essay about middle eastern politics.
    Sorry for the long rant!

  2. What a beautiful tribute by that womans husband, one of many sad stories that happened that day. I don’t have an answer to these questions, it’s so complex. But since I had spent a year in the U.S a few years prior to this (and had friends still there) I was also very taken by this tragedy, not many that wasn’t around the world I guess.
    Like the madman that blew a bomb and shot so many young people in Norway recently – for reasons he believes others will understand 60+ years from now. I doubt there will be much more clarity then.
    There are no sense or reason for these tragedies in my eyes. I can’t even begin to understand how someone can be shaped that way to do such horrible things. I mean how will the world be better through innocent peoples deaths? I’m not into politics at all but even if I were I think I’d have a hard time understanding it.

  3. I was 19 and asleep at my parents’ house in Southern California when the planes hit the towers. My mom came and woke me up to tell me about it, and I remember being confused and a little annoyed that she’d woken me up. And I spent the rest of the day trying to hide from the tragedy, trying to find something – ANYTHING – else on TV. I wasn’t personally affected (didn’t know anyone who was lost that day), and the scope of it all was just too overwhelming for me, so I tried to ignore it.

    I think part of me is still in that denial. As in, I’m glad that the NFL season starts on the 10-year anniversary, because I can watch football and pretend that life is still normal.

    Sorry I don’t have anything more insightful; you asked, and this is my reality surrounding this event.

  4. Thank you. Your post and Sarah’s essay helped me find the words I needed.

  5. Thank you so much for this post, and for the link to Sarah’s essay, which took my breath away.

    In some respects, disaster *could* unite us. The flooding from the hurricane the other day made me think about this, as so many other things have before, the events of September 11th being just one of them. But the connection is so artificial, so fleeting. We overlook our shared humanity, unable to get beyond the differences of ideology, or geography, or a thousand other things that serve as convenient excuses to simply not *see*. Even those of us who think we are more accepting are often more accepting of other people who are like us … afraid to shake our own foundations to their core, which is what real connection would entail.

    I don’t know if our world will change, if people can find it in themselves to reach out to each other across our differences. But I hope so, for the sake of our children.

  6. Thank you for introducing me to Sarah’s raw and first hand account of being there in NYC that day. I also appreciate your thoughts about 9/11, how our world has changed since and about unity. I think open minds, interfaith dialogue and trying to find common ground are all huge to helping foster unity and understanding. However, unfortunately those who attacked America on 9/11 seem to be among the least likely to be open and willing to engage those who don’t see the world and faith from the same perspective that they do.

    So I don’t know where we go from here. Being an idealist and a dreamer (as Lori from http://www.writemindopenheart.com talked about in her 9/11 post today), I will say that I have to believe that things can and will get better and thus I am more hopeful today, this year, 10 years later on 9/11.

  7. The one good thing that came from 9/11 was the sense of connection in the days afterwards. I wish we could sustain that.

    “What I like so much about the infertility community IS the camaraderie. We see the dust, the ash of disaster on each other’s tights and we respond.” I had never thought of this, but it’s a great analogy!

  8. I’ve been catching up on all the 9/11 posts this week b/c I couldn’t bear to read them in the lead up to this past weekend. Now that the anniversary has passed, it’s just easier for me to be in a better place about it.

    I remember feeling SO disillusioned with our country immediately in the days afterward. First it was the flag pins. Then the bumper stickers. Then the “let’s go after the Mooos-lims!” mentality. It made me sick to my stomach. Instead of this rallying sense of unity of genuine patriotism, it felt cheap, capitalist, and purely vengeful.

    On another blog today I wrote that I don’t believe in world peace. I just don’t think it’s a realistic possibility. That said, I will fight to my dying day for a just world. A peaceful one? I just can’t get behind that b/c I just don’t think it can ever happen.

    I think of it like this – did killing Osama bin Laden really solve anything? Should people have celebrated his death? I don’t think so. It doesn’t bring back the thousands that were killed that day. An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind – props to Gandhi, I think, for that one.

    Yeah, so I totally rambled. But your post stirred up a lot. Thank you for sharing your story of that day with us and making me think.

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  10. Catching up on some blog reading & commenting. While I don’t want to get too much into politics, I’ll say that I agree with you about how disappointing it’s been, post-9-11. While that “united we stand” feeling is bound to wear off sooner or later, I think that being told to go shopping & then diving into an ill-thought-out war (totally unrelated to the events of 9-11, as it turned out) was not the way to go. The United States had the sympathy & goodwill of the entire civilized world after 9-11, and frankly, I think the leaders of the day squandered that opportunity, big time.

    I agree with Mo about fundamentalism (of all kinds) being behind a lot of the terrorism going on in the world today. I also believe that poverty is a factor. When people don’t have a lot of education or awareness of what’s out there, or much to look forward to for the future, it’s easier to sway their opinions.

    I do believe that we all need to get to know each other better.
    We need to travel more, and open our eyes to what else is out there, how other people live (and how very fortunate we really are). We all tend to cling to the familiar & build walls to protect what’s ours. It’s harder to stereotype all Muslims as terrorists (or all Italians as mafiosos, or all black people as drug dealers, etc. etc.) when you know some of them yourself.

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  13. Here from the future via Time Warp Tuesday. I love revisiting post via Time Warp that I remember reading and commenting on the first time around. I recall reading this last year and especially appreciating Sarah’s account of 9/11 that you linked to.

    As I said last year, I continue to believe that things can and will get better and thus I am more hopeful today, this year, 11 years later on 9/11. But I also realize, especially during this presidential election year and during a time when my 3rd grade son is home from school because of the teacher’s strike here in Chicago that there is a lot of progress yet to be made locally, nationally and worldwide. But I will do my part to make my corner of the world a better place and hope that contributes to the ripple effect of good will and peace keeping.

    Now heading back to the future to comment on your new post, which I actually read on my phone this morning, but look forward to re-reading and sharing my thoughts on. Thanks for doing the Time Warp again this month.

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