Thursday, September 11, 2008

'In A New York Minute'

In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
Things can get pretty strange
In a New York minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute

So goes the song. And how true it is.

Given that this is the first time I have blogged about the anniversary of September 11, 2001, I really wasn't sure which route to take. I have seen a close friend profoundly and, I believe, permanently changed by the events of that day. Seen how it affects her everyday interactions with the world. I could write about that.

Or I could write on and on about my own feelings on that day, and for months afterwards, all the while in tears. It still surprises me, in some ways, how the strength of the feelings and sensations garnered that day remain so close to the surface for me seven years later.

I remember, even at the time, having trouble explaining the depth of those feelings to some American friends. Because it hadn't happened in Canada, they presumed that I couldn't really "get it". And perhaps they were right. Up to a point. But as I tried to explain to them at the time, it was like watching a terrible, unthinkable tragedy happening to your next door neighbour's home. So even if your own house remained unscathed, your psyche didn't. It was the next worse thing to it actually happening in your home.

To this day I refuse to watch any movies or documentaries concerning the events of September 11th. I refuse to look at any still photographs. They instantly transport me right back to that day of incomprehensible horror and pain. It's not that I won't look because I would rather forget. It's simply that I can't allow myself to physically and mentally relive that time again.

And yet, amazingly, out of the horror, one positive thing has also stuck with me since that fateful day. Something which, at the time at least, gave hope and not pain.

It was the sense that the horror was shared. It was the strength of the outpouring of emotion from around the world. The compassion, the empathy that people from around the world felt and expressed for the people of the United States. As we sat glued to our television sets, unable to tear our eyes away from watching the same horrific images over and over again, at the time it seemed as if the whole world stood in support of America. That we would do anything we could to support and help it, that we could agree with almost any action it took in the horrible aftermath.

Of course, I very quickly learned to pay attention to the inhabitants of what might as well have been a whole other "world", people who rejoiced in the tragedy of that day. But at the time, it felt as if all the 'civilized' world, at least, were united in this common tragedy.

And I am deeply saddened and troubled by the fact that we have all gone off in so many different directions since then. Not that the rest of the Western world should have to play cheerleader for every action taken by the U.S. since that day, not that we all have to agree with everything the American government and its people decide to do, but that we have lost that sense of outrage and shared humanity that united us so strongly at the time.

It's truly sad that so many of us have lost that sense of compassion and empathy, of being united in a common cause. Or experience. Or perhaps it's some other word that I cannot quite touch at the moment. But I know it was there. Just as surely as I know we have lost it in the intervening years. And that, I think, is another tragedy born out of that day.

So, no, I will never forget September 11. 2001. I will never forget the horror of it all. I will never forget those many who lost their lives that day or the families and friends they left behind. I will never forget that there is true evil in the world and that I saw it in action, with my own eyes, that day.

But neither will I ever forget what it felt like to see so many united in our humanity. Or what it feels like to lose that.


Balancing Act said...


Well written. You captured how many of us feel about that day. We joined hands with everyone regardless of our individual beliefs because a greater need had brought many together from around the world. I wrote last year and only linked to it for this year. We often hear what happens overseas and in other countries but it came very real as it was only 2 hours away from where I am. Suddenly the fight was physically in our "back yard." Many emotions and pride was created that day. Freedom is very precious and worth fighting for regardless where you live or what you believe.

Thanks for writing a wonderful tribute and realizing that it touches all who were there and died and those who watched that horrible day.

Kris, in New England said...

Michelle: if you can hold your resolve without seeing the images, that's a powerful thing. I avoided them for a very long time; to see them risked seeing the daughter of our old friends die on Flight 11 - over and over.

Yet I have forced myself to see them at least once a year - not because my resolve weakens, but because it reminds me that we must live our lives fully and richly - not to give in to that hate.