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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

After Silence

It was important for me yesterday to observe silence.

I'm ashamed that I still don't understand what September 11, 2001 means. I'm angry about the meanings plastered on it by politicians. I'm angry about my inability to feel deeply for the people who have died and for those who have remained behind. I watched a total of ten minutes of television on that day, listened a little bit to the radio; and I did a search on Osama bin Laden on the web and read justifications for his hatreds. And then I went back to my life. That morning I had such bad cramps that by ten o'clock I was curled on the green futon in our living room with a pillow clutched against my stomach, staring out the window at the gloomy sky. I didn't even start when I heard the sound of a key in the lock and my husband said, "They sent us home early. Something happened in New York." We turned on the television and I watched one of the twin towers still standing but with a smoking gash in it. The horror of it didn't strike me. The image didn't seem real; things like this didn't happen in the United States. I took a couple of Tylenol and lay down in bed for the rest of the morning. I talked very little with husband about what had happened. The following weeks I heard appeals for blood donations on the radio, and then appeals not to donate blood any more; the banks were full. I didn't watch any television at all after September 11. At the end of that week husband and I went up to Big Bear Lake for a weekend at a fancy bed & breakfast to celebrate our wedding and my birthday. It didn't feel as if I lived in the same world in which the airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center Towers. It didn't make sense for it to be the same world.

I didn't listen to or watch any documentaries about that day on any of the anniversaries so far. But yesterday I made an effort to, and I heard -- with the same feeling of unrealness I experienced on September 11, 2001 -- about volunteers who have serious lung diseases because they worked without respirators at Ground Zero sifting through the rubble for evidence of bodies; about the monetary compensation the government gave to people who had lost sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and what the survivors did with the money (a family whose son had been killed got a million and a half and opened a foundation in his name; other opened trust funds for their kids and went clothes-shopping); about conspiracy theories and the president shaking hands with widows and kissing little girls at memorial services. I listened to the president give his address and was stunned by the lack of emotion in his voice and by his strangely cadenced sentences that feigned but failed to comfort and to explain. I observed the day as best as I could. But that best isn't good enough. It won't be good enough until I break my routine and snatch the safety of everyday habits from under my feet and think about what it really means to stand in front of nothing.

Fiction, I think, is going to help me do that. I've read the first fictional account of September 11 in Julia Glass's novel The Whole World Over. It moved me in a way that no story about what happened on that day had. I wasn't crushed by the utter horror of it; I didn't have to close my eyes and my heart in order to be able to go on; I was able to feel for the people and the city. I feel prepared now to watch the two movies that just came out, able to stand still and experience what seemed impossible to experience five years ago, or four or three or two. It is late, true, to wake up just now to the truth that the world has changed. But I'm always late for such things. I'm late for them when they happen within the boundaries of my small life.

The picture above is by Chris Gollon. At services for remembering the dead in my country the priest blesses bread with a candle stuck in it, a thin black ribbon tied around the yellow candle. The bread is then given away to the people who have come to attend the service, and also to the destitute. I couldn't find any picture of bread and candles so I picked this one instead. It seems just the right expression for the feeling inside my slowly denumbing heart.


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