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September 11, 2003

Getting it right. Jim Henley, in a post headlined “Proportion.”
Soon the columns, weblogs and airwaves will be full of people instructing us that we must “never forget” what happened in New York City, Washington DC and the sky above western Pennsylvania two years ago. As if any of us could or would forget the despicable acts that took place that day, the heroism, the damage, the wasted lives. What they really mean is not “remember,” but dwell. Obsess. Lingeringly finger the scab. And most of all, fall in line when assured that some grand policy, however wise or unwise, is put forth in the name of that day and the atrocities that marked it.

Don’t listen to these people. You and I do not need their instruction in how to remember or honor our dead. Nor need we go veiled, cowed or enraged to the end of our days to prove our memories or honor. In the time of my grandparents it was the custom to mark a year of mourning for the loss of a loved one. Women wore subdued colors; men, armbands. By these signs they notified the world that they had suffered loss. It was incumbent on the notified to recognize that those in mourning were not yet “right,” that they needed time and space to come to terms.

We as a nation have had that time and that space.

[07:38 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Getting it right.:

Norbizness ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 10:01 AM:

Something rushed through Congress titled "The PATRIOT Act" was signed into law by the President 6 weeks after the attack. Nearly everyone in Congress hadn't even read it. Only one Senator voted against it.

Currently, 70% of Americans think Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks.

I've had more than enough time and space to know that three "never agains" don't make a right.

carla ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 11:00 AM:

The length and "depth" of mourning depended on the closeness of the person who died. Women's clothing went from all black early on, to grey or lavender near the end of the period, and the period ranged from a month to a year. (That's what makes the scene in Gone w/the Wind so scandalous--Scarlett is wearing mourning black, and dancing.)

I've always thought that the Jewish rituals were timed about right. I'm not jewish--or any other religion--so we had to figure out our own mourning rituals when my sister died (20 years ago, not 2 years ago), but I thought the timing was about right: nothing but mourning in the early days, then a gradual return to the rest of the world, then a yearly private remembrance.

But thank you for your comments. The exploitation of those attacks is despicable, the horrors we're perpetuating on our own people and on Iraqis (among others) is indefensible, and the failure to recognize that many others around the world suffer every day--Congo, anyone?--is selfish.

the talking dog ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 12:23 PM:

I'm with you Brother Patrick. Its been two years: enough. We New Yorkers who lived it have now had our time for reflection, grief, anger, etc. Time to move on. Especially for the rest of the country who "lived it" from the comfort of their t.v. screens.

9-11 is not (and never was) a justification for American unprovoked aggression, suspension of political and civil liberties, tax cuts, or any other political point scoring.

Best we forget the day ENTIRELY than allow it to be highjacked for things anathema to this nation and its traditions and values.

colleen @ del rey ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 01:31 PM:

Hey, amen to this one. I refuse to be sad today.

I do have one memory of the days just after September 11th that makes me smile, though.
Kuo-Yu Liang was living down in the Bowery at the time and I had snuck in past all the National Guardsman and police to go meet him for a walk around downtown. We ended up walking around down by Ground Zero, and I was taking black & white photos of the people standing around watching the construction (or rather, the deconstruction) of the pile. There was one fellow, Nigerian I believe, who was the first to set up a little blanket selling big 11 x 17 color laminated Xeroxes of the towers. Many people were appalled by this, but I remember thinking "Hey, this is EXACTLY what New York was founded on; commerce and free trade." I snapped his picture and he gave me the biggest shit-eating grin, with his thumb up, holding a picture of the towers. I thought at the time that there really was no more fitting tribute.

Anyway, my two cents. Hope your day goes well. (And yes, some of the Del Reyvians read your blog!)

Cheers!

Colleen

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 03:46 PM:

In Judaism we also have four yearly remembrance services (Yizkor) on Yom Kippur, Shmini Atzeret, Pesach, and Shavuot. So counting the yahrzeit (the actual anniversary) that's five.

Today is the yahrzeit of 9-11. Commemorations and sadness and anger and stocktaking today are appropriate.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 05:44 PM:

Especially for the rest of the country who "lived it" from the comfort of their t.v. screens.

If you think it was at all comfortable sitting there watching the horror and not knowing the whereabouts, safety, and disposition of friends or loved ones who lived in NY, I have news for you.

MKK

suncat ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 06:44 PM:

I keep hearing "get over it" applied to this day. I'm sick (yes, actually nauseated at times) and tired of television using 9/11 for ratings and the administration and other politicians using it for their own agenda (like, say, having the Republican convention in NYC just before the third anniversary).

However, I still have nightmares from standing and watching WTC through my office window. It still hurts, an actual ache. There are people still getting pieces of loved ones sent to them...if they're lucky. This isn't something everyone can behind them; some have to live with it all the time, get hit with memories at unexpected moments.

What I think most everyone would like it the exploitation of the event to stop. Enough of the flag-waving and banners and news logos.

Whether everyone puts the event behind them is another thing entirely.

Jonquil ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 08:55 PM:

Actually, formal mourning lasted a great deal longer than a year. I can't find my oldest etiquette book, but the 1903 "Correct Social Usage" says that "Two years is the usual period of mourning for parents, adult children, brothers and sisters." For a husband, a widow wears deep mourning with a veil for two years; "At the end of two years, the veil is discarded and lusterless silks are worn." Many widows, including Queen Victoria, wore mourning for the rest of their lives.

Like any other rule of etiquette books, I'm sure this one was ignored when convenient.

The real point is that people mourn as long as they must. Some will ache for their September 11th losses the rest of their lives, and they're entitled to do that. Grief doesn't have an official duration.

The media, however? Can shut the hell up. As Suncat said, enough of the flag-waving and banners and logos.


Stephanie Zvan ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 09:32 PM:

I don't think of it as a matter of putting it behind us. We all carry our images and thoughts of that day with us, wherever we watched from. I think that's why I find the media coverage/rehashing so offensive. In their haste to tell us that they are providing a 93service,94 the news outlets are strongly suggesting that we have forgotten, that we can forget.

However, I try to give the people who say, "Get over it," the benefit of the doubt. They do have something important to say, and if they don't know how to express it, it's not entirely their fault. We don't talk about tragedy in this country. We've never really developed a vocabulary of sorrow. I hope that if we did, these people would be saying something much more like, "Don't let this stop you from living. Don't let this pin you down."

When tragedy first occurs, the burden of it seems unbearable. We're weak, fragile creatures, and we've just been reminded so terribly of that. We can't possibly be strong enough pick up more; often, we can't even continue to hold up what we92ve carried every day up until now. Some of us fall ourselves.

This happens. It's what terrorists like to point to as victory, but it isn't. It's just human nature. Their real victory only occurs if that's where it stops. Every person who never figures out how to carry that new burden is another casualty, stuck forever where they were then. Life is motion. Stasis is death.

That isn't to say that everyone has to grow strong at the same rate, or that this is a burden we each must bear the full weight of, or that we shouldn't put it down sometimes to rest or be weak or even forget momentarily. We don't even have to carry it very far at a time. We just have to try--to make unafraid decisions about our future, to let the world back in instead of cringing away from it, to trust ourselves to remember when the time is right.

We owe it to the dead, who can't. We owe it to our living loves, who would do all this for us if they could. And we owe it to terrorists, as sheer spit-in-the-face defiance.


Whew. Sorry, Patrick. I didn't mean to take up all that space, but apparently this has been preying on me and reading the post and comments was the right catalyst.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 09:49 PM:

The proper response to, "Get over it," is a good, meaty, two-word, New York rejoinder. The first word starts with "F."

One of the uglier things about conservative politics is the tendency on the part of some conservatives to think that being unhappy, thinking you got a raw deal, and talking about it, is somehow unseemly. "Get over it!" is one phrase used by such people. "Suck it up!" is another. I often wonder how they deal with THEIR suffering, since other people's emotional suffering is so unimportant to them.

Yes, I know what it's like to have people around you who dwell to an unseemly extent on past injustice. I have a relative in his 70s who still goes ON and ON about how so many things are his parents fault because of the way they treated him when he was a preadolescent. I mean, Herbert friggin Hoover was president then, and he uses that as an excuse for his current problems! But snapping, "Get over it!" at him isn't going to help matters out.

Do you know anybody who seems to be angry ALL THE TIME? They always seem to be two steps away from flying off the handle -- not on the verge of it, but on the verge of being on the verge of it. These are the people who seem to me to be quickest to use the phrase, "Get over it!" The way you get to be that angry all the time is by denying your own right to be unhappy.

Hmmm... I asked a question in the first paragraph and then I answered it in the previous paragraph. The people who say "Get over it!" are the people who walk around in denial and then keel over from heart attacks when they're 49 years old.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 10:00 PM:

And another thing: For most of the time I've been aware of it, I've wondered why Pearl Harbor Day and the assassination of JFK had such a profound effect on people who were adults when those events happened. Or even precocious children.

I was two years old on the day JFK was asssassinated, I have absolutely no memory of that day. None whatsoever. My mother told me I napped on the porch while she watched the news on TV. (On the porch? In November? On Long Island? That doesn't make sense -- and alas my mother has gone to the place where I can't question her about it.)

Anyway, those events were certainly important, but lots of important things happen every day and people don't remember them for decades later. I don't remember where I was the day the Berlin Wall came down, or the day that the U.S.S.R. was dissolved, and those events were arguably as significant as Pearl Harbor -- and more significant than the Kennedy assassination. (Kennedy was arguably a minor president, and even had he lived it's possible that his administration would have continued to be a minor one, just a good-looking Gerald Ford, keeping the White House warm between Eisenhower and Nixon.)

But now that I've been through 9/11 -- even just on TV and the Internet -- I know. You go through a period of hours, or days or week where your ENTIRE UNDERSTANDING OF AMERICA'S PLACE IN THE WORLD -- and therefore, by extension, YOUR place in the world -- is shaken. It's like finding out you were adopted, after being sure you were a natural child of your parents. Whoa.

Thing is, you can't really communicate this sensation to people who haven't been through it. In, oh, 13 years or so, we'll see the first generation of Americans reaching political consciousness who accept 9/11 as a part of history, just one of the things that happened before they were old enough to absorb the TV news, like the election of 2000 and Bill Clinton and Vietnam and the fall of the Roman Empire.

the talking dog ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2003, 10:58 PM:

I don't mean to minimize the experience of the events of 11 September '01-- for New Yorkers, Americans, or anyone else-- whether viewed live, on tape, remotely, or however. It will always rank as one of the great tragic and horrible days of all time, and a strangely unifying national experience-- perhaps the most unifying one we will ever have.

And I didn't even say "get over it". I won't myself. I don't expect anyone else to. But "move on" is something else. Otherwise, we will buy into the hatred and bigotry that our so-called elected leaders are counting on. Why do 70% of the AMerican people believe that Saddam ordered 9-11? Because surely, we wouldn't be invading another country for NO REASON. 9-11 9-11 9-11 we will never forget we will never forget we will never forget.

I'm reminded of the two Buddhist monks, who, walking along, encounter a woman attempting to cross a stream with difficulty. One of the monks bends over, grabs her, and carries her to safety across the other side, a few meters away. It is apparently a taboo to touch a woman, as the Buddhist monks are committed to absolute chastity and celibacy. As they continue their journey, an hour or two later, the first monk says to the second, "I can't believe you carried that woman! What about our vows!" The other monk stops, and laughs uproariously, observing "I carried her perhaps 20 meters! You have been carrying her for the last 20 kilometers!"

Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 11:01 AM:

A good way to remember is to remember what hasn't been done. An interesting piece, 20 unanswered questions, in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 02:09 PM:

Talking Dog - I should have been clear earlier that I didn't mean anyone in this thread when I did my get-over-it rant.

And you're right: people do need to move on from grief or trauma, eventually. They DO need to get over it. What they DON'T need is for some patronizing git to TELL them to get over it.

In the pilot episode of "Deep Space Nine," god-like aliens are moving the hero through time, causing him to re-live various moments of his life. The moment they bring him to most often is the moment his wife was killed in a battle -- he keeps coming back to the moment of seeing her body under flaming rubble and trying to pull her out. He asks the aliens why they are torturing him so, why they keep returning him to this time and place. They respond: WE aren't doing it, it's you. This is the place you live. You have never left this place.

That's the nature of the phenomenon we coolly label as "post traumatic stress disorder." In a way, the event that harmed you never recedes into the past, it's always there in the present. Two years later, I have still not reached the point where I can look at TV news footage of the towers collapsing and see it as just another old newsreel. It's always the morning of 9/11/2001 when that video comes on the TV, and I'm always going into the living room where my wife is already transfixed by the television, and sitting down on the couch next to her, and realizing that of all the people in the world that I care about, about half of them live in the New York metropolitan area.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 04:47 PM:

The experience of Oklahoma City says that two years is when you start the process of "getting on with life." They say that "getting over it" never really happens.

I remember my former boss was quite unsympathetic when I was going through a bout of depression. "Do you know how many people are worse off than you?" she would ask, then tell me stories about them.

What kind of selfish, unempathic jackass would be cheered up by that?

Later, when she twisted her ankle and was on crutches for a couple of weeks, I thought (but did not say) "You know, there are people who have had their feet cut off. There, does that hurt less now?"

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 08:33 PM:

Mitch Wagner: That's the nature of the phenomenon we coolly label as "post traumatic stress disorder." In a way, the event that harmed you never recedes into the past, it's always there in the present.

It sounds to me like you are describing PTSD as an inability (or unwillingness, or unreadiness, or something similar) to get over or move on past whatever trauma it was that left the PTSD as an aftereffect. Whether or not this is your intended meaning, it isn't true. Oftentimes PTSD is intensified by a trauma victim's determination to move on. It's like what happens to the bones and joints of injured ballet dancers who stoically "dance out" their injuries to hold onto their places in the company.

At any rate, PTSD is more complicated than what you seem to be describing.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 10:19 PM:

Xopher:

I remember my former boss was quite unsympathetic when I was going through a bout of depression. "Do you know how many people are worse off than you?" she would ask, then tell me stories about them.

What kind of selfish, unempathic jackass would be cheered up by that?

On the other hand, Lou Grant's attempt to cheer up Mary Richards was kind of funny -- and, in a weird way, a good try.


Alan Bostick:

It sounds to me like you are describing PTSD as an inability (or unwillingness, or unreadiness, or something similar) to get over or move on past whatever trauma it was that left the PTSD as an aftereffect. Whether or not this is your intended meaning, it isn't true. Oftentimes PTSD is intensified by a trauma victim's determination to move on. It's like what happens to the bones and joints of injured ballet dancers who stoically "dance out" their injuries to hold onto their places in the company.

At any rate, PTSD is more complicated than what you seem to be describing.

Unwilling, no, but unable, yes, based on my observation. However, please do tell me more -- I'm interested.

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2003, 10:28 AM:

On the other hand, Lou Grant's attempt to cheer up Mary Richards was kind of funny -- and, in a weird way, a good try.

My favorite in the genre is the scene near the end of Animal House where Bluto tries to cheer up the weeping Flounder. He makes a cheerful face; no effect. He makes kissies at him; no avail. He crushes a beer can into his own forehead; no help. He breaks a bottle over his own head; nope. One of the classic Belushi scenes (up there with the "excuse" scene in The Blues Brothers).

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2003, 03:02 PM:

Kip - "Animal House" was a wonderful movie and you're right, that was one of the best scenes. I went to college starting in 1979, that movie was our bible.

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2003, 12:08 PM:

Mitch, I graduated high school in '74 and started college in '81. I began as a full-time student, then got a part-time job in a department. As time went by, I worked more and more and took fewer and fewer classes. By the time Cathy let me quit my full-time job (two moves and three colleges later) and pursue a community college degree, I was egregiously proud that I could truthfully say, "Seven years of college shot to hell!"

To get a two-year degree, I basically had to take two more years, but it was fun to be a student anyway. Having now worked at the same place for twelve years, I miss it in some ways. Mostly I miss the free time between classes. At least I don't have homework now.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 01:53 AM:

We just watched the end of "Animal House" on TV a couple of weeks ago. For as long as I can remember, whenever someone has knocked on a door to a room I'm in, if I'm feeling goofy, I'll shout in extreme falsetto, "WHO IS IT?!" When they identify themselves, I'll shout, in the same falsetto, "YOU CAN'T COME IN, I'M DRESSING!!" I had completely forgotten where I stole that from.

Niedermeyer! Dead!

carla ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 12:14 PM:

You know, there's something good about having this serious discussion--lots of interesting and heartfelt points--and ending up with Animal House. Because that's how grieving and recovery (or repair) go: one minute you're angry and upset and tearful, and the next you're laughing. Sorry for the pomposity, but, really, it's how life goes.