A few weeks into my first year of college I woke up before class, tiptoed around my dorm room so as not to wake my still-sleeping roommate, and set off down the hallway to brush my teeth in the shared bathroom. My next door neighbors were already up and watching TV, and as I passed their room they yelled to me to come in. On the screen I saw that now infamous shot of the first World Trade Center tower, black smoke billowing from its side. I ran back to my room to wake up my roommate as she was from Brooklyn and I thought she’d want to be up for this–whatever this was going to be.
We spent the rest of that morning in our dorm, huddled around various TV sets. My roommate went to Stuyvesant High School, which had been turned into a triage center. Another friend from down the hallway couldn’t reach her father who worked in the WTC (she later did). It was a genuinely scary day and the ones that followed were not easy. I recall people crying in class as we discussed the attacks, and I remember saying things at 18 that I would never say now a decade later. Really honest and emotional things, like you’d expect from a kid who had just left home a few weeks ago.
I kept it up too when I left, and while I was bouncing around for a year or so after college I attended whatever local anti-war meeting I could find. When I settled back here in Buffalo I attempted to go to one rally but the time had changed and only a handful of us showed up. We wrote military and Iraqi civilian body counts in chalk in front of the Lafayette Square military recruiter offices, and what I now realize is Rep. Louise Slaughter’s office. My involvement in my community here turned more local and more political, and that’s pretty much where it stands today. Beyond conversations with my friends, occasional sparring with conservative family members, and maybe a rally or two, I can’t think of anything I’ve done that would count as participation in the anti-war movement.*
Last night as Sean and I were reading in bed (him, World’s End; me, Persepolis) I saw an alert from my Huffington Post app and turned on twitter. A couple minutes later I was parked in front of another TV, this time with Sean, and we waited for the President to tell us what had already leaked out online: Osama bin Laden is dead, killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. After the President finally spoke, the news station cut to scenes of cheering crowds outside the White House. A young guy in a cowboy hat was perched on top of another man’s shoulders. He was waving a flag and the crowd was chanting “USA!” Sean and I were still shocked from the news of bin Laden’s death and just stared at the screen with our mouths hanging open. A couple seconds later I turned it off, enough.
I felt sadness, really deep sadness, and when I woke up this morning I still couldn’t muster the joy that others were experiencing. It’s not that I think their joy is wrong; I just can’t relate. All day the scenes of my and the world’s 9/11, the wars, the Bush administration’s lies, and even the hope and disappointment of the Obama era have been playing in my head on a continuous loop. I’m glad bin Laden is prevented from planning and orchestrating the death of more peaceful people. I don’t believe that the death of this one man makes up for the pain, abuse, and lies of the past decade. I don’t feel closure but I do hope at least that some of bin Laden’s victims and their families do. These thoughts are not joy-making thoughts. It’s f*cking heavy.
And again, I can’t say I think anyone’s reaction is wrong. This experience has shaped everyone in a different way and I’m not up for judging other people’s grief.
I am also positive I feel this: helplessness, grief, anger at the world for being so violent and f*cked up, anger at myself for not being more outspoken and active and engaged, anger at myself for not bearing witness the way I know I could. I feel fear of retaliation. I feel love and sympathy towards people who lost their loved ones in 9/11, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (both military families and civilians). I feel tremendously grateful for the privledge to not have had to experience any of it first hand. I feel ashamed that I haven’t been moved to think, write, and talk about this in a long time.
But joy? Not yet, I just can’t. So this is where my head is at right now: swimming with memories and mixed feelings, and the urge to reach out and share.
*Ok, we can get nitty-gritty here and say that working on local anti-poverty issues is an act of non-violence but that’s not what I’m talking about.