exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

09.11.2011

by Jen at 12:00 am on 11.09.2011Comments Off
filed under: mutterings and musings

every year at this time, I am strangely grateful to no longer be living in the US. the intensity of media saturation reliving the horror of September 11, 2001 becomes to much to bear, even from afar. and to what purpose? to milk the emotion that lays buried just beneath the surface? to stimulate fresh tears, renew the deep ache of grief?

who does that help? what does that serve?

we said we’d never forget. and I think there’s an immense collective fear that somehow we possibly could. that allowing ourselves to view it as a historical event, rather than an existential keening for our loss, somehow dishonours the dead. or more pointedly, dishonours our sorrow.

in a country of 300 million, you could ask every person where they were, and they’d tell you. but there are not 300 million stories about that day. there is only one story. no matter where you were, the one unifying experience during that morning was not sadness, or even shock – we hadn’t yet had time to process anything. it was fear.

fear of things and people unknown falling out of the sky. fear of unsuspected places blowing up. as plane after plane went down, and we all rushed home to be with family, the fear was omnipresent. not knowing where to turn, or when the next explosion would come – our nerves were frayed wires touched in rivers of adrenaline.

for most people, that kind of untrammelled, all encompassing terror is a once in a lifetime experience. for most people, nothing before or since has caused that kind of invasive abject fear, penetrating their lives and brains. everyone wants to share where they were, what they were doing, because it forms part of the collective national story. it means that even in our stunned and silent horror, we are less alone.

people who’ve experienced a deep trauma often experience flashbacks, as the mind struggles to process the enormity of it. and in many ways, this is what we do every year on this day, now. we grapple, we relive, we share our scars. this is what our nation does now, as we try to cope.

but being caught in an annual feedback loop also keeps us trapped, psychically, there in the moment. our inability to modulate our fear, the rampant panic that flooded our entire country that day, means that it continues to spill over into the rest of our lives. we live in a state of heightened alert that prevents us from ever getting enough distance to process what happened. so we guard against the forgetting, we hold tight to the sorrow.

ten years later, we are not coping well.

the government, the media – they all work to keep us there. that fear is useful for winning elections, for attracting viewers, for manipulating public sentiment. and we allow it because we are afraid of forgetting, we are afraid of getting emotional distance. we are afraid that allowing ourselves the space to be less fearful, less sorrowful, will mean *it didn’t matter enough*.

back when i was in the depths of depression as a teen, i cut at my wrists. it was an internal distress made visible – can’t you see how upset i am? this is how much i hurt inside. this is something i can point to, to show you how much i feel. the memorials and the tributes and the sea of flags every year serve the same purpose. this is how much we hurt inside. it was such a monumental event, that we still need people to see our scars. we need to make our pain, our fear, our grief visible. this is how we quantify what happened to us.

but eventually, with time, i learned to demonstrate my emotions in different, healthier ways. and i know that as a country we can too, if only we begin to trust ourselves to deal with the hurt, to allow ourselves the distance to begin to heal, and set ourselves free to do so.

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