How Do You Not Forget People You’ve Never Met

 

This year, I allowed myself not to watch the Twin Towers come down. It was the first year since 2001 that I didn’t watch the reruns of that horrific morning. In years past, if I caught a glimpse of it on tv while passing through my family room or flipping through the channels, I’d sit down and watch it to the end. Every terrifying minute. The fiery explosions, the plummets of dark ash and smoke, the strong, powerful buildings obliterated with deep gashes and massive chunks cut from their sides. I promised myself to never forget the victims. It was the only way I knew how to share their feelings of terror and panic.  It was the only way I knew how to share their loved ones’ feelings of anger and devastation and loss. I didn’t believe I should get away scot-free. It wasn’t fair. So many lives were turned upside down and inside out that day. I didn’t want them to be alone. I knew that the “life goes on” adage would happen too quickly and that could potentially minimize the loss. So I watched the footage again and again and again, each time it would cut me down and thrash against what I knew to be peaceful reality. It didn’t matter if I was watching in September 2001, 2005 or 2010. It would bring me to my knees. I would cry with such agony sometimes it seemed impossible to move on.  How do you just move on to the small routines of life when something of such magnitude has happened?

It didn’t make a difference if I closed my eyes and listened to the tv commentary.  For me it was equally devastating to hear the eerie calm of the spokespeople describing a horror scene as it played out in real time.  I remember thinking how unbelievable it was that they could speak with the utmost control, and devoid of emotion, “And now another plane has crashed into the second building,” as if they were watching a movie. Last September I saw a news clip I’d never seen before, in which an on-camera spokesperson told an off-camera spokesperson who was reporting from the street the incredibly daunting scenes happening before his eyes, that he was going to be put on hold because the broadcast could not become hysterical.

I’m not saying that engaging myself to feel the pain of that catastrophe, in an effort to empathize, is the right thing to do.  But I do believe that forced desensitization is far worse.  As I write this piece I feel the pull.  I watch the YouTube videos, not surprised that the raw tragic emotion doesn’t feel eleven years old.

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