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9.11.2010

Remembering

I tried posting this as a Facebook status, but it was too long. Apparently, Facebook has limits. I'd be frustrated, except for the awareness in the back of my mind that something requiring this many characters probably shouldn't be relegated to a forum of glib, occasionally clever, momentary comments on a social networking site. The blog, awkward and ethereal though it may be, proves a better shelf.

It occurred to me this morning that fourteen and fifteen year olds probably only know why this day is a big deal because they've been told about it. Not because they remember it. Which doesn't make me feel old, actually. It just keeps me fascinated by the workings of time and the nature of history. Like when I first realized I was not only alive when the Berlin Wall fell, but old enough that I could easily have remembered it if I'd been paying any kind of attention.

It's the sort of realization that inspires me to turn on the news - though a few minutes of that quickly dispels the inspiration. One thing I remember vividly about the events of 9/11 was how surprised I was at the number of people who just 'woke up and turned on the TV'. The likelihood of me just happening to wake up and turn on the news is about as likely as me waking up and deciding to go for a jog. It's not completely unlikely, of course. It happens once every three or four years. The likelihood of me doing so on the precise morning of a national disaster, well, that's a little closer toward the impossible. It was interesting, though. Amidst all the emotional turmoil, national feeling, shock, awe, confusion, and what-have-you, there was this mental poll going on in my head. 'How many of you woke up and turned on the TV?'

Everyone shares where they were when they heard the news. I was in my morning psychology class. Most people, including the sloppy, lazy, Freudian 'professor' with her 7-11 soda and uncombed hair, were late to class. That is, if they bothered showing up at all. The 'professor' (whose name I have chosen not to remember she was so completelyhorriblyawful) immediately launched into a conversation about the planes and the towers, and I had no idea what she was talking about. It was a full half hour of her rambling before I realized she was discussing some sort of attack that had happened that morning that she had witnessed after she just 'woke up and turned on the news'.

There is some information that can only be delivered with care. If information of a certain tender nature is not delivered with a special kind of honor, reverence, dignity, and mourning, it will take much longer for the receiver to process than it should. It reminds me of the first time I came home from college for Christmas. I went to church and was lovingly greeted by my dearest friends. The service was starting in a matter of moments when one of them plopped next to me, giving me a big hug and welcome home. The first words out of her mouth were 'Did you hear about Levi?' Her face was glowing with her first greeting. She spoke with a kind of eagerness that made me half expect Levi to pop up behind her saying, 'I'm visiting your church because I love the Lord and have found peace at last!'

Levi was a friend from high school whom we'd all been praying for for years. He was a ballroom dancer, and I took algebra II with him, occasionally passing notes between desks on our graphing calculators. I used to give him rides home in the gold 280 Z. He always seemed a little disgruntled, at odds with life, or himself, or something. The kind of kid that you remember to pray for years later. 'Did you hear about Levi?' 'No! What!' I am filled with sudden excitement, readiness for joy, an anticipation of long-awaited good news.

'He was stabbed to death in his dorm room at school. No one knows why.' Another friend walks up with a big smile to welcome me home. The service starts. We're hugging and smiling and singing and I'm wondering, 'What did she just say?'

There are ways to deliver all kinds of news. Maybe that's why people turn on CNN the moment they wake up, so that a professional can deliver it to them in impersonal tones the moment it happens. Sitting in my psychology class, having my grungy gnome of a teacher allude to the planes and the fall of the towers like we all knew what she was talking about - not the way to go. Amy DiBello, my English prof, made up for it later on that day. She had us write it out. We sat in some silence, and later we talked it through. There is a way to honor a tragedy. I am not sure if I've learned that way myself, but I know it when I see it. It's something other than pity. It's reverence for an experience close to you that may or may not be your own. There are words, like 'murder' and 'attack' and 'death' and 'grief' that should be spoken slowly and with a careful eye to the person who hears, to watch their minutest reaction, to know whatever change in heartbeat or bat of eye signals 'slower yet,' or 'now keep quiet'.

Almost ten years now, and we argue over mosques that do or do not honor the dead. I wonder if perhaps the passing of time unlearns our reverence. Our awareness. Our closeness to these things. And I wonder how to learn them again.

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