Brian Gresko wonders if 9/11 should be a time for us all to be silent.
A friend’s Facebook status update—“I can’t help but wonder: if the 10th anniversary of 9/11 weren’t around the corner, would God still be crying this much?”—confirmed my hunches. Stay away from media this weekend, both the news and social variety.
I’m a New Yorker who, thankfully, did not lose family or friends in the attacks of 9/11. But like all New Yorkers who lived through that day, I’m haunted by traumatic memories. The fighter jets strafing over fortress Manhattan. The abandoned stations my subway home passed through, covered in white ash, strewn with debris. The stillness of that ride—the whispered voices, wide eyes, lack of laughter. The shock of seeing a smoke cloud rising in place of the Twin Towers when I came from the station in downtown Brooklyn. The burned papers my roommate and I snagged as they floated onto our fire escape. The smog that descended over the neighborhood, leaving a coating of dust on the cars, an acrid smell that stuck in the nose. You could taste it. A sensation I hope never to have again, the closest thing to war I hope ever to experience.
The city was quiet that night. Every ambulance siren carried from Ground Zero to Park Slope, where my girlfriend and I lay in troubled sleep, holding one another. It’s a silence I remember every year, an eerie still, not the pause of a city at peace, but one holding its breath, anxious.
This year, there will be more noise than ever about 9/11. As so many have in the past, the day’s events will be spun in the name of religion, war, and politics. It will be relived in sepia tones and slow motion spectacle, wrung for sentimental value by stations hoping the nation will once again gather in front of the television – only this time with commercial breaks. It seems only a matter of time before Hallmark debuts 9/11 cards. “At this time of national tragedy, let’s take time to remember the good things.”
(Think this sounds ridiculous? For Christmas of 2001 an aunt gave me a commemorative snow globe of the Twin Towers. A snow globe! I nearly threw it at her head.)
My friend’s Facebook status struck me as a sign of the schmaltzification of 9/11, and sparked a vitriolic response on my part. I found it ridiculous to imagine that a Supreme Being—if there is one—would weep over a tragedy that said Being did nothing to prevent. Sadly my friend bore the brunt of an anger much larger than her status, toward our media at large, as I’ve stated, but also at humanity’s need to discuss and dissect.
I’m a private emoter, an introvert. I don’t want to belong to some grand moment of national upset. It’s not in my nature to want to contribute to that kind of conversation. (And yet, there’s this. Go figure.) My copy of The New Yorker’s anniversary issue remains on the kitchen counter, unopened. I can’t even bring myself to peruse the book and film reviews at the back. The cover alone—the Towers reflected in the waters of the East River—lodges in my throat.
September 11th presents a writer’s conundrum. How do you talk about the most important and intense experiences of a life, when words don’t do justice to the depth of feeling or the full range of emotion those experiences entail? Perhaps silence is best.
And that’s why, for the day and even the weekend, I’m turning everything—computer, television, radio—off. September 11 is something I want to remember and feel for myself, on my own. My memories are enough.
—Photo Scott Hudson/Flickr