A dear friend of mine asked me for a guest spot in today's blog post sort of last minute and after reading what they had to say I couldn't say no. I was intending a post on a related subject forgetting that today was the anniversary of 9/11. That post will come Monday. People are constantly telling stories about where they were on this infamous date. Not being one to go for this sort of memory play, normally I would've missed this anniversary altogether. However,besides being a self-centered jackass I am also an American and I believe that we should never forget the fallen. So at the risk of offending my usual readers with such a clean post (she is after all a lot more sophisticated than I am) I present My good friend Jessie Nelson:
Nine years ago I worked at an elementary school. I ran the before and after school onsite 'recreational learning' program. I had my own portable for my classroom, all of my own materials and more than enough children as my charges starting at 6:00am.
It was my first year 'teaching' the program and the middle of my second or third week. My lesson plan for the day, to go along with the date, was '9-1-1: Emergency Preparedness and How to React.' I had coloring kits from the fire department, an activity for drawing a house and creating an escape route, making a first aid kit and an emergency preparedness kit, stuff like that.
On my way to work I heard about the trade center. I thought it was a hoax; like 'War of the Worlds' when Orson Welles came on the radio for the martian 'news bulletin.' By the time I got to work I was realized the DJ's weren't just overplaying schtick. I felt like I was in a cloud.
I don't remember every kid coming in, it's been 9 years, but I remember a few; the first kid to be dropped off, his mom pulling me aside and explaining she didn't know how to explain what had happened and she asked me to because she had to get to work and find out what was happening with the people working in New York. Another mom who didn't even know it had happened, I was the one to tell her in the corner of the room where she looked dazed, like she was experiencing my cloud feeling. She took her daughter home for the day. I remember a dad, dropping off his daughter, whispering in the corner with me as he began to cry, another woman who cried, who clung to me and hid her face from her son. And several who's only spoken words to me were 'Do you think they'll close the school today?' Their faces spoke volumes of fear, concern, confusion and guilt. The guilt of not feeling worse; something I, too, was feeling.
Needless to say my lesson plan was out the window. Both before and after school we had a lot of 'Circle Time.' We talked about heavy things that people don't expect kids to talk about; war, racism, death and dying, heroism, anger, fear. There were so many questions I couldn't answer, not just because I didn't know but because, frankly, these weren't my children. I helped mediate conversation, helped them understand what they were feeling and how it was important to talk to their parents about their feelings. I encouraged them to write letters to their parents with all of their questions and their fears.
By the end of the day the middle eastern kids in my group had already been victim of the most basic, childlike forms of racism; similar to that of someone suffering from a terminal case of 'the cooties.' I talked about how nothing about Neda or Darwish or any of the other kids had changed overnight, that they still want to learn, to play, to have their friends want to play with them. I was proud when I saw the mob mentality of the playground melt away and allow my little portable to be a safe haven for everyone.
The funny thing was that the kids were just little, amplified versions of adults; some cried, some were angry, some didn't understand how what had happened applied to them, some didn't even know what was going on. And some just felt a looming sense of 'something's wrong' but didn't know how to express it or define it. I related to those kids the most.
After work I went to my mom's house. As I remember, she was already a media junkie and had watched every second of CSPAN, CNN, Northwest Cable News, etc. That's how we functioned; we had to know every detail and understand everything that had happened; I remember watching entire days' worth of Oklahoma City and Columbine. But I couldn't watch this. I couldn't accept it. I couldn't even comprehend what had happened, what was happening, how I was being affected. I remember the little scare we all had when they talked about how the FEMA bunker in our town, rumoured to be 7 stories below Nike Hill, could be another target for the 'terrorists.' I remember thinking what an absurd name 'terrorist' was. The shoe-bomber was a 'terrorist.' He didn't destroy the WTC, crash into the pentagon and take a plane down in Pennsylvania.
Soon after, the American flag, the symbol for freedom and unity of the states, became an anti-terrorist emblem. Stickers on all car windows, miniature flags flying from antennae and fences and in gardens. It was equated with statements like 'Fuck Osama' and 'Nuke 'em All.' It's entire 200+ years as a herald of hope, independence, struggle and victory had been boiled down to a red white and blue middle finger. Something more to be confused about.
To this day, nine years later, I feel like I still don't understand. I still can't watch, I still tear up when I see commercials for 'never before seen footage' or other glurgy montages of that day. I don't see how everything that happened could have culminated into what followed, and honestly I still don't see how we've begun to heal. I think that, in a lot of ways, we've stitched up the wound without cleaning it; so the skin can start to heal but below there is inflammation, infection, and maybe some shard of glass or stone that will eventually have to work it's way out, through the healed skin and scar tissue.
Yes, I haven't forgotten. I will never forget, and I don't think anyone else will, because nobody can let themselves; it isn't like VE-day or Pearl Harbor or the Tet offensive, this event has a date as it's name. It has usurped a day in history that will hold fewer weddings and barbecues and add an underlying acknowledgement of omen to a birthday. We won't forget, but can we forgive?
There's an Old-Testament part of me that cannot abide to forgive the people who were the planners, suppliers, executioners. But I find no reason to forgive the innocent people that look, talk and maybe even pray like they did because I've never held them in contempt. I know there was a person who looked, talked and prayed like me that pressed the buttons over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But I don't feel personally responsible for their orders or their actions. But there are some who can't forgive the innocent.
So my nine eleven thoughts allocate themselves to remember the fallen heroes of NYPD and NYFD, the victims and their families, the kids and parents I spoke with, comforted and who comforted me. My thoughts go out to the people still fighting to understand, to gain closure and to find acceptance and end their mourning. But my prayers go out to those who have not been able to forgive:
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have
against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
With deep and abiding affection,