Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tedium and terrorism

I narrated my 9/11 experiences on this blog five years ago, and I can't retell them any better now, nor do I wish to try.

But here's what else I remember: amidst all the fear and anxiety and what-the-fuck-do-we-do-now, I remember feeling exasperated. I was exasperated when I couldn't get through to my friends in New York because the phone lines were jammed. I was exasperated that I might not be able to visit the city the next weekend, as I'd planned. I was exasperated that my then-partner (a heavy, late sleeper) wouldn't wake up when I called him repeatedly that morning, and I was exasperated that my parents, whom I did wake up, didn't seem to understand what I was telling them.

I was exasperated because I didn't know what to do, and exasperated because I did know what to do, and that included reconciling with people I didn't want to reconcile with. Late at night on September 10th, I'd written an email to someone I hadn't spoken to in a while and who I felt at the time had wronged me. It was a cold, hard message, laced with sarcasm and self-righteousness. I rewrote it several times, but had second thoughts about sending it. I hit "save" and went to bed. When I rediscovered the message a day or two later, my first response was annoyance: the recipient had family in New York, and now I couldn't send even a mild version of my original message. I deleted it and wrote a short note asking after the recipient's family and friends and saying that we should be in touch.

Fucking terrorists, I thought, and hit "send."

But we were all exasperated. Exasperated that our loved ones lived far away, that we couldn't travel to see them, that we still had to study for our orals and teach classes when we didn't know whether any of that mattered any more--but also because we wanted badly for those things to be all that mattered: our everyday concerns and preoccupations. We wanted to be able to be self-absorbed, as always, and not vaguely and ineffectually focused on everyone else, on the country, and on whatever was going to happen next.

Exasperation might be a selfish response, but ten years out it strikes me as a better one than fear or rage, at least for those of us who weren't directly touched by loss. It's better, certainly, than the maudlin, luxurious catharsis we're invited to engage in every time September 11th is mentioned (and which I succumb to as much as anyone, but with as little right as most). To be exasperated is not to be paralyzed, and not to be rash. Exasperation measures the distance between how things are and how we wish they were, and if it's not the noblest of emotions it's far from the most venal.

Fucking terrorists.


Susan said...

"maudlin, luxurious catharsis". Oh, yes. Add to that smug piety. I gagged when it was suggested that our campus remembrance, some 2500 miles from Ground Zero, be letters to fire and police departments in the NYC area.

Exasperation is a good response. It's what I feel every time I take my shoes off at the airport, or pack my one quart plastic bag with sample size toiletries. I once remarked to a pilot just behind me in the security line that I could not decide who annoyed me more, the shoe bomber or the liquids plot. And I'm grateful that the TSA response to the underwear bomber was not that we all fly in the nude...

Anonymous said...

All in favor of less venal responses to 9/11 indeed!

Megan said...

Love the whole last paragraph; it really captures the distaste I've been feeling on this 10th anniversary (also been feeling guilty about feeling).

More than hate, I worry about the "me, too" attitude that 9/11 seems to have given some Americans. It becomes just another justification for insularity and self-righteousness.