Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finding Peace on 9/11

I awoke in a foul mood. I was mad about my backache, my kid’s lost homework, and the dog. Everything costs money. There is so much work to do. I would never catch up. 

When I dropped my son off at school,  he said, “ I love you, Mom."

I went home, did the dishes, lit a candle, said a prayer.

What the heck, Jesus? Help me. Help me. Help me.
That was my prayer.

I was crying pretty hard, when I heard: “It’s 9/11.”

Oh. I stopped crying.

It is 9/11.

I bet a lot of people are feeling angry right now. And sad.  And overwhelmed. I stopped crying. Why did that bring me comfort? I'm not sure.

I remembered a dream I had several years ago:

I was going through a lunch line in the basement of some building where my husband was working as a cook. 

He plated up a runny dish of spaghetti and red sauce and handed it to me. 

I looked at the plate.

 “Jeez. Can’t you do better than that? Look at this, it’s a mess!” 

The juices were running all over the plate. It didn’t look very appetizing.

My husband plated up another dish of spaghetti for me and before he handed it to me, his supervisor came over and stood next to us and said, “This time, why don’t you tell him WHAT HE DID RIGHT.”

My husband handed me the plate. This one was a little less runny. I was not pleased, but looked over at the imperious supervisor who peered at me over horn-rimmed glasses.

“Um. Thanks for cooking this for me?” I managed to say. 

The spaghetti lacked the cohesion I expected from a plate of normal spaghetti. I tried to appear grateful.

As I took my plate, I turned to to the right and found myself looking up an imposing flight of stairs (lower level of the Bryan Center at Duke). At the top of the stair, I saw the twin towers looming.

This shocked me.  9/11 had well passed.

Then I heard the message in my head, “If you don’t change your attitude, it will happen again.”

What? Me??? Complaining about a plate of spaghetti? To my husband? C’mon.

But the image was startling. Ominous. Perhaps small, day-to-day interactions had more power and resonance and importance than I realized. Maybe it was time to cut everyone (myself included) some slack.

Just a dream.

I did not tell my child about 9/11 for six years.

He was 2 years old when it occurred. It was never spoken of in my home. I turned off the news when it was mentioned.

When we flew again six months after the attack, my husband who has a beard and swarthy looks and my son, who was wearing white Stride Rite shoes, were pulled out of the boarding lineup to be frisked and asked to remove their shoes, after all passengers with small children were invited to come to the front of the line. As my husband removed my son’s tiny shoes at the request of the ticket agent, I cried knowing that life on this planet and in this country would be different for him – in a way that I did not wish for and could not control.

My father saw the attacks occur on the top of a Manhattan skyscraper, while eating breakfast at the company café. He and thousands of others walked silently from their office buildings out of the city. All heading in the same direction – over the 3rd Avenue Bridge, into Harlem, where the news had not yet traveled and where children were still out on the sidewalks playing in the sun; children who watched hordes of men and women in business suits, wing-tipped shoes, and sneakers walking in silence away from their city. When I asked my dad if he felt it wise to return to the city, after the buildings were reopened a week or two after the attacks, he said, “We can’t let the bastards win.” I wasn’t sure who the bastards were. Still not sure.

When my son was finally old enough, in my mind, for me to go on a Girl’s Night Out, with the other mother’s in my son’s playgroup, we went to a big fancy sports bar and grill in the new mall. As we sat and our drinks were ordered, a news flash came on the screen. Night vision images of “Shock and Awe” – the American invasion– came on the screen. Soon the restaurant went quiet as everyone watched this sneak attack invasion. Our boys were less than three years old. Now we were at war. I could not order from the menu. I'd lost my appetite. 

My son learned about 9/11 when he was being tutored for reading afterschool. It was the beginning of third grade. He wasn’t a super terrific reader yet; his fluency as a reader was patchy. Our tutor was a Mets fan, an expert at teaching reading, and had the best reward stickers collection. “Oh, by the way, I mentioned 9/11 to Nick and he didn’t know what I was talking about. So I explained and quickly realized that you hadn’t told him yet. I’m sorry.” I was sorry, too.

Was denying 9/11’s existence the best way for me to keep it from existing in my child’s world? Probably not. But I soft-pedaled the story when I got home. Some bad men from far away flew a plane into the towers and it fell down and a lot of people died. The bad men died also. It was very sad. End of story.

It is still sad. It will always be sad. I feel angry about how sad it will be and for how long.
My pre-9/11 world is gone. Thousands of people have died around the world because of that one event. Fear descended upon the land. But so did sympathy and compassion.

Rather than march, wave a flag, or raise an angry fist, get out the Kleenex box. It’s ok to cry.

Today I am celebrating the strength of the human heart. How easily a heart can be broken. How it keeps on breaking. How much courage it takes to get up in the morning and say, “This is some soggy spaghetti. Thank you. Let’s eat.”

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