What We Need Is Here

This morning I was driving Rascal to doggie daycare when I heard, in the car over the radio, a reminder that it was the 6th anniversary of the attacks on September 11. Somehow I had managed to put this fact out of my mind, to pay no attention to the approaching anniversary, and so hearing the announcement on the radio was a shock, a jolt to my system. It all came back to me very suddenly, very vividly – especially the smells – the acrid scent of the collapsed building in the thick air, mixed with a heavy smoke. I had to pull the car over; it was just unexpected and intense, even after these six years.

And then it all begins to make sense. For the last couple of weeks I’ve had a heavy heart – every day seemed overcast – and I had been talking with Morra about it. Now I remember that for the couple of weeks before the anniversary, I always sink into a bit of a slump, a dark sense of foreboding creeping across everything. And I never remember why; it’s as if my head puts the memory of September 11, 2001 completely out of my head, out of my personal history, so that it does not exist. Then in a quiet moment, my guard down, it comes creeping out of the dark corner and terrifies me.

It’s funny; I listen to a lot of news radio in the mornings – a clock radio wakes us up, a radio blares in the kitchen while we’re having our morning coffee, a radio in the car. In fact, the morning radio is about the only news I consume all day long. Today I realized I had managed to tune all of the various radios to music stations over the last few days, a completely unconscious way to avoid hearing about the anniversary.

I get myself all tied up in knots remembering that day. It is such a difficult memory for me – not just that day but the weeks that followed – and yet I feel like my experience was not nearly as bad as many others. I had it pretty good, all things considered – I am alive today and no one I am close to was killed in the attacks. I was right downtown when it happened; I did get hit by some debris and bled from some resulting small cuts on my neck and head; but compared to what some people experienced that day – and compared to many people’s tragedies every day – my experience, as painful as it is for me, seems small and not worth mentioning. Mostly it remains my own private scary memory, a landscape of mixed emotions that stays buried inside me until the anniversary, when it invariably surfaces and terrifies me yet again.

I don’t know what to do with it, this memory full of emotions. I don’t want to forget it – but I don’t want to remember it, either. I don’t want to share it; but I can’t just hold it alone. I feel like my experience on that Tuesday six years ago completely re-wrote my future; it fundamentally changed my life and who I am. I don’t like to think about how living through the experience changed my life, because it’s not a matter of debate – it has happened.

I want everyone to be quiet today. I don’t like the news media’s approach to the anniversary. I don’t like the constant discussion of Iraq that invokes September 11. I don’t like the impersonal tone of all the coverage and chatter. I want everyone to be quiet and to consider their lives. A favorite Wendell Berry poem (“The Wild Geese”) ends:

And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

What we need is here. The love of our friends and family – and the loving of our friends and family – for all the madness, that’s what this day returns me to: what we need is here.

I have written twice before about my experience of Sept. 11 – the first time was just a few months after the attack and the second time was last year.

One Response to “What We Need Is Here”

  1. mhmele Says:

    Amen, Amen.

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