Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11 ten years later

I have not spoken much about 9/11/01, and in general I feel that decision was right. The mistakes that have been made in speaking of the catastrophe are to braid it into some existing personal or political narrative, to say the terrorist attacks of that day made one feel differently politically or made one take new steps in one's personal life, when most of these things were already somehow on the boards. I do not doubt that some people's lives and views were genuinely changed by 9/11, but I am chary of making much of this sort of change outside of the victims, their immediate families, and those in the serving military and other government officials involved in the response to the calamity. In addition, I think 9/11, as an event, should be isolated from whatever debates about whether what the US government did in response was right or not, or what the causes and preconditions of the attacks were. That's in the realm of ideology and history, a relatively normal continuum; the day itself was catapulted out of that continuum.

The closest I came to these events was..what? I cannot claim any sort of privileged or special relationship. I was almost on the jury for Ramzi Yousef, accused architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. (I got out by saying I had to teach Andrew Marvell). I live about thirty-five blocks away, and some dust from the aftermath is no doubt still scattered on some of the books on my bookshelves. I knew, slightly, siblings or spouses of those who died in the World Trade Center and who were on Flight 93. I suspect the emphysema of my late friend, the poet Samuel Menashe, may have been exacerbated by breathing fumes from the disaster--he lived only fifteen or so blocks away.

Menashe wrote a poem that imagined, long before the event, the emotional scale of the calamity:

Must smiles subside in a sigh
   And sobs underlie laughter
   Shall we always leap high
   With flames leaping after?

9/11 reminded us of how much tragedy and suffering lurks beneath our merited--and even at times--valiant attempts to find happiness. We must try to vault further than the flames, exceed their killing grasp, live out what joy we can and should have,  but my reaction to the anniversary is dominated by a sense of gravity and of persistent mourning. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The year 2001 should not be repeated