Tricks of memory

Into the light

My SIL Heather recently wrote about her memories of September 11, 2001. Her comments are quite understandably turned off because a recent bombardment by comment spammers, requiring her to shift server programs and we all know how much fun that could turn out to be. But anyway, the fact that she wrote something about the day that changed the way we look at the world for another few decades got me thinking.

I’ve generally stayed away from writing about September 11th for a number of reasons, the bulk of which can be summed up in a quote I once read that went something like, “about some things one can either say much or nothing at all.” I haven’t written about Sept 11 partially because there are simply too many things to say and partly because I have no immediate claim to anything other than the cultural shock. I wasn’t there, have no relatives there, have never actually visited the US, haven’t any relatives who are police or firefighters, etc. No connections, you see. We were in New Brunswick at the time. I remember finding out about it in a deli downtown with John’s folks, who were visiting. We had a TV then, so I remember the subsequent weeks and the public reaction. I remember lots of things, but none of them are really about me.

Explaining the concept of inhumanity to a child is no easier now than it was post WWII. Conceiving of the organised demise of a group of people by another is not made less difficult by the reduced size of the groups involved. Explaining this to a child…. I hope to be able to wait until Katherine has seen enough mean kids before having to tell her how horrible adults can be. Strange as that may sound.

Heather has been kicking herself for not participating more than she did in the activities of her church to help those stranded here, but I think she might be berating herself more than she ought here. It is, of course, her conscience and not mine that is at issue, so I really have no say other than as a sympathetic friend. That said, I’m not sure I would have done differently than she did. Dealing with chaos (be it physical or mental) and twisted inhumanity make a person react in unforeseen ways. Some people rush to be around others, seeking safe company in numbers to nullify the effect on their psyche, others cocoon themselves with those closest to them. I’m more one of the latter, as is Heather, from my observation. An added factor (which I didn’t have then but do now) is the presence of a child in your life. To some degree, participating in the events surrounding Sept. 11 would require talking more with a child about the situation and exposing them more to it. Frankly, (and childhood theorists are welcome to disagree with me here) I think there are some things that kids simply aren’t ready to handle when they’re that little.

When you’re in an airplane and the oxygen gets low, you put on your own mask first. No one expects you to run around putting on the masks of everyone around you before taking care of yourself and your children. I’m willing to bet that there are other families at the church that didn’t participate much either, Heather, especially if they had young children. If you think about it, everything you’ve done towards building that church and community was put into play that day, so your role, while not direct, was significant and profound.

What I’m left with personally after that day (and the other events such as war, bombings, attempted hijackings, etc.) that have followed since is an overwhelming feeling to the world going to hell in a hand-basket in ways that even my small amount of religious tolerance, goodwill and hope can’t possibly affect. I’m also shouldering the guilt of being glad that I live in a small, out-of-the-way place with a low population density and little political or economic significance.

In a way, the events of yesterday in Montreal jar my sense of safety more than did Sept 11, because of the smaller scale of them. It could have been anywhere. No planes, large political targets or tall building required. Whenever I hear about something like that, all I can think about is the apparent randomness and unpredictability of such actions. A little part of me also is constantly afraid that someone with a grievance with the court system might get ideas of a similar nature around here and I worry about John.

Maybe it’s a part of getting into your thirties. Suddenly, unlike while you’re in your twenties, you realise exactly how much you have to lose. Most days I try not to think about these things, but the media bombardment makes it difficult.

It’s a very confusing world these days.

I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to do with it.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Lovely photo! kid in the backround makes this photo so memorable!

  2. Thanks, Vicky. Always the voice of reason. (Which usually prevails in my head as well, but there are times when the gibbering gets kind of loud.)

    I love the photo as well – the imminent emergence of the little child in the big bright unseen world. It’s got to happen, but not (with our diligence and care) before they’re ready.

  3. rexton says:

    Sorry about comment three. I wrote a related blog and referenced yours. Somehow the whole blog became a comment! BTW, this counts as my longest comment.

    Real comments on “Tricks of Memory”: I really like how you made your comment to Heather’s original message, and the thoughtful way your addressed her concerns and your own about the world of 9/11 and acts of random violence.

    Heather’s concerns about her involvement are understandable, but I have known her for half of her life. I know where her heart is, and how much she can care selflessly about others (including me). Also, in this case there were plenty of people around to help our guests of 2001, both in St. John’s in general, and in her church in particular. I remember there were stories in many places of donations and offers of help that were never used. She also had two very young and impressionable children to cope with. I did two things for 9/11, one of which helped (a monetary donation to the American Red Cross), and one which still gives me a feeling of despair; I donated blood for those injured in 9/11, but there were very few injuries, only deaths.

    Her thoughts regarding other people’s stories of the event are understandable. It keeps bringing back memories of her dilemna at the time, and her anguish about her decision.

    Regarding the reasons for the attacks, and what can be done about it,
    I have similar feelings to both Heather and Vicky. I don’t do a lot to try to change the world, but I do think that simple individuals can help in small ways, and these individual efforts can build up to significant effects. To address hate, I think the most effective thing is to do something to address the causes. I personally support Amnesty International and the International Red Cross with small donations. When I vote federally I consider international policy a bit more than many of my aquaintances.

    Without hope, there is nothing. And, if you’ll excuse the platitude, every little bit helps. If enough people do a little, the results can help a lot.

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