The arrival of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 shook me up more than I expected. I’m puzzled about what I still feel about that day, having lived through other momentous news days with sadness or awe, but not trauma – the JFK and Robery Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assasinations, the shootings at Kent State, the explosion of The Challenger, all horrifying. The moon landing – glorious. Two big Seattle earthquakes that knocked mirrors off my walls and books from my shelves – personally unsettling. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens, which sent ash floating across the sky and down onto my car, parked in the street – no other word can be used but “awesome.” But nothing marked me and stayed with me like 9/11, where I sensed, along with millions of other people, that the world was changing. I wonder if my mother’s generation felt this way after the attack on Pearl Harbor? Of course, there was no instant news feed then, and people didn’t watch the attack as it unfolded. They didn’t have an internet, they didn’t have YouTube, they didn’t watch it unfold over and over and over again.
At times, I felt as if I were watching it all from above, like a page from Google Earth – seeing the grid of Manhattan streets and those billowing clouds of dust and debris – as well as people running to escape it all. When Jim Dwyer’s and Kevin Flynn’s remarkable book, 102 Minutes
came out, I stayed up all night reading it.
Here we are, ten years later – add two continuing wars to that count – with anniversary documentaries and articles surrounding us. The saddest of these, to my ear, is Paul Simon’s singing of “Sounds of Silence” at Ground Zero yesterday. The most reasoned of the batch that I’ve seen so far is a video the New York Times posted online as part of its series “Artists Respond to September 11.” In it, the choreographer Bill T. Jones talks about the impact of 9/11 on himself as an artist. He perfectly articulates what I’ve been feeling.
If you are a writer, or any kind of artist who draws from your own deep well of memory and energy and wonder, ask yourself if the fatigue you’ve been feeling the last few years is a version of post-traumatic stress. Does it flare up every time another news story about terrorism, war and senseless violence comes at you? Does the dust from 9/11 seem to settle over you once agains as you watch political debates, or as you listen – exhausted – to the talking-points and the spin politicians put on the news?
If the answer to those questions is yes, I hope you’ll watch the interview of Jones. It’s only a few minutes long. He is calm, balanced, sorrowful – yet optimistic. What he says in the final moments of the interview – about the lasting lesson of it all – is important.