Thirteen years have passed and I still feel the darkness of September 11, 2001. I don’t think about it every day like I used to, but I’ve never been able to think about it without a deep sense of trouble – and perhaps it is a sense of deeper trouble to come. I’ve read blog posts and newspaper editorials saying, “Let it go. Unless you were a victim, get over it.” I can’t get over it. Not really.
I wasn’t a victim. I was safely in my home in Columbus, Ohio, under blue skies, watching the news while I was getting ready for work. Just like most of America. Two degrees of separation have kept me from personally experiencing the loss of that day. I know people who know people but I don’t know anyone myself. Maybe I should get over it, I say to myself, knowing well that I won’t. Getting over it feels like a betrayal to those who died under terrorism’s twitchy thumb.
Last night, I watched a CSPAN program on “Hiroshima & Nagasaki Atomic Bombings Remembered,” introduced by Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of President Truman, the man who ordered the bombs. You may have heard the story of a young girl named Sadako, who was two when we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. She wasn’t expected to live a year. At some point in her young life, she began folding hundreds of paper cranes in hopes that they would grant her wish to live. She died at age 12 of leukemia. Decades later, during a ceremony honoring the victims of 9/11 in 2010, Sadako’s older brother visited Clifton Truman Daniel and placed in his hand the last crane made by Sadako before she died. Sometimes the smallest things we leave behind tell the bigger truths.
The CSPAN program hosted one survivor of Nagasaki and one of Hiroshima. They spoke earnestly of their fear that what they experienced will be forgotten, that nuclear weapons will continue to threaten the world as they have every day since 1945. They are getting older and feeling desperate. Few have heard their stories, now that nearly 70 years have passed.
Both survivors shared their memories of the bombs. The blinding, exploding light still haunts them. Both talked of the bodies of their respective city’s dead and how each day the locations of the cremations, which occurred on school playgrounds, edged closer and closer to where they lived so that it was impossible to avoid the smell, impossible for a child not to watch and look for a familiar face. Of course, the memories etched their lives as distinctively as their own fingerprints. But the first-person singularity of their stories will fade with their passing from this world.
It would be easier for the rest of us, of course, if we covered our ears, diminished those still speaking uncomfortable truths, erased the tapes and hid the photographs, stashed away paper cranes. But denial is deadly – we see it in the goose-stepping fervor of neo-Nazis, in the murder of a young black man in Ferguson, MO. When we try to forget, we make things worse. We make them bigger and uglier.
The survivor of Hiroshima told of trying to plant vegetables in the years following the bomb and how when pulling up a potato, one would find bones. The things we bury come back to life.
oh. that final image, and this whole thing.
too tired to read it as it should be read tonight. but at a first read: just love this. Thank you.
So glad you liked it, Lisa. Hope you got some sleep! I loved your piece, btw.
This was powerful, Meg. Why am I not surprised that 9/11 still shakes you like it shakes me? I’ve read some research on the aftermath and the trauma that even we not-directly-impacted people feel. It’s too much to go into here, but I’ll say that our feelings are indeed shared by millions…to this day.
I was in NYC a two years ago for a business trip. My colleagues went to “Rock of Ages” on Broadway and I went to Ground Zero. It colored the rest of my week and this is the time of year that memories of that day start to creep in–even though I still tend to think about it several times a week.
Perhaps we truly are intended to “Never Forget.”
I wonder if most people do still think about it fairly often but just don’t talk about it. The psychology behind millions of people seeing a horrific event, unfolding in real time, boggles my mind. I’ve never been to Ground Zero, although I’ve been to NYC several times since 9/11. It was for work and I never had time. I would have been like you, though, going to Ground Zero instead of Broadway. Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences, Michelle. <3 to you.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And we do, every day. This is why oral history and literature is so important – to make us remember.
So right, Helen. Thanks for reading, friend.
We moved to nyc not long after the attacks. I lived a few blocks from there, the buildings still had dust on their windows. I made the three minute pilgrimage to ground zero often, I cannot even express how heavy the air was down there. I kind of remember that about the cranes, as well. Thanks for sharing this!
Thank you, Jen. I bet it was hard living there at that time. There is a children’s book about Sadako: http://books.google.com/books/about/Sadako_and_the_Thousand_Paper_Cranes.html?id=b_XkQwAACAAJ
Oh cool thanks for posting that I’ll check it out
Yes, why forget? It’s important to remember. That’s why we study history, why we tell stories. And how could we possibly forget that day? I know I never will.
I know! I have a hard time fathoming trying to forget, which I think some people try to do. I mean, you can’t live in that terror and grieving every day but thinking one should blot it out entirely is also wrong-headed, IMHO. Thanks for reading and commenting, Natalie. <3
This is beautifully written and haunting. That last line is tremendous.
Although I lived (and still do) practically within spitting distance of NYC, I didn’t personally know anyone who died that day. Like you, I know people who know people. My story of that day isn’t the same one as people who were *right there* would tell and I didn’t lose anyone. I have a close enough to freak me out story though and sometimes I feel like I should let it go because close enough isn’t the same. But I can’t. We need to remember these tragedies, all of them, so we work hard to not repeat them.
I think we tend to minimize our own “close enough” experiences, in favor of honoring those who experienced loss or died, which is right…but…it doesn’t change the fact that you experienced it. Y’know? We do need to remember, even if we think we don’t have a right to still feel traumatized. Seventy years down the road, no one will be alive who remembers, like Hiroshima. The Jewish survivors of Nazi concentration camps were so right to force the world to look at what happened — now there are younger generations who have heard older generations tell their stories.
Thanks so much for reading and sharing, Michelle. Close enough is close enough.
I have a friend whose dad survived the Pentagon attack; I still remember the shock I felt that day when I heard the Pentagon had been hit, and realized that my friend’s dad was there. And of course the sky that day was so clear… I’ve never quite liked cloudless skies since. In Rilla of Ingleside a character remarks that perfect days are nature’s way of making up for something terrible that’s happened.
Wow. Thanks for writing this, Michael.
I share your concerns, Meg. I don’t feel as though most people are forgetful about 9/11. For most of us, the emotion is still tangible. We carry it with us in our hearts like Sadako’s brother carried that last crane. What does concern me if the realization that as the years progress, we lose more and more people who remember the horrors of a World War. Most people on Earth now were not alive during the horrors of that time. I have to hope that their loss and grief is etched into every one of us, so it is not a lesson we have to learn again.
I don’t think people have forgotten, but rather that some would prefer that we let it go. I agree — I think most people do still think of it. And I completely agree that the more immediate concern is that younger generations will have only a cursory understanding of world war. I also share the atomic bomb survivors’ concern that few outside of Japan have heard their stories. Most of what they learn and see is the obliterated landscape which is difficult to comprehend without context, without stories. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Nate. Maybe that’s part of our job, as simple writers with our noses close to the ground, looking for stories to tell.
Amazing writing Meg. And such a basic truth. Being passive or forgetting will come back to bite us. I won’t forget that day either.
Thanks so much for your kind words, Stacie. I’m glad it struck a chord. xo
Powerful piece of writing. I was in France, September 11, 2001, when I saw it on TV there was no translation, but none was needed. We are so anesthetized by the terrible things we see in the media everyday. These things are not normal nor should they be ignored.
Yes, you’re right. They aren’t normal. I was reading something about how violence has actually decreased — and this is probably true, given the bigger picture of slavery, civil war, world wars, etc. But we should be even further evolved by now. Thanks for reading and commenting, LHN. I will always remember the generous, kind headlines that the French ran the day after 9/11. For a brief moment, it was like we all belonged.
Thoughtful and eloquent and profound, Meg. This piece moved me and made me think at the same time. After I vote for it, I’ll need to re-read it to take it all in again. Well done.
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