Monday, September 12, 2011

Longest Delayed Reaction Ever.

I've known for a substantial chunk of my life that I tend to have a delayed reaction to overwhelming emotional events, but have never known any other way to cope. When the 9/11 attacks happened, I was 17 years old and living the typical jaded, brooding life of a teenager (I had my own tribulations in my personal life that I was dealing with at the time). I had left second period and took an extra couple minutes between classes in the bathroom to attempt to combat a particularly bad hair day and was slightly late to class. When I walked into the room the tension was palpable, and the whole class was ignoring our teacher, who was trying desperately to get everyone to quit talking. I had no idea what was going on and thought that maybe some bad classroom-related news had been delivered. Being the distracted person that I am, I pulled out my book and notebook and pen and looked around, waiting on everyone to hush and start the lesson. Then the whole class started a mutiny to turn on the TV in the room and that was when I realized something was wrong. Of course some of my classmates saw that I was obviously out of the loop and started in with the "didn't you hear?" and "there's going to be a draft!" When I was informed that the WTC had been hit by an airplane, I didn't believe it and thought that a rumor mill had started up at the school to freak everyone out. You know there are always those people who like to start an outrageous rumor, just to see how quickly they can get it to spread and frankly, mess with people. Then I looked up at the TV and realized that it definitely was not a joke or a ploy to get the student body's drawers in a wad. As I was watching, my pen rolled off the desk and  I bent over to pick it up and while looking down heard the whole class gasp in unison. By the time I looked up, the second plane had hit, but I missed the entire thing and the news was not doing instant replay, so I had to ask what happened while everyone shushed me so they could watch the news. It was so frustrating, feeling so out of the loop in the midst of such a profound attack on not just our physical country, but our sense of security as Americans. Due to a rather busy schedule, I didn't have the opportunity to watch the news in the following weeks and never really heard all of the story, so my mind only registered the obvious feelings- fear of war and subsequent attacks, disbelief that this could happen on American soil, shock that the terrorism plot got as far as it did (I was wondering if our intelligence community had decided to take a vacation), and the vague realization of how many people must have lost their lives. There was so much going on in my life at the time, I didn't have the time or energy to devote to letting it all sink in and really "feeling out" the event that had occurred.

All of these years, 9/11 has been an event in the back of my mind that I acknowledge happened, but didn't personally affect me and thusly was put into storage in my brain, to be brought back out at a later date. Another reason it was hard for me to connect with what had happened was having to be submitted to the barrage of "We will never forget" bumper stickers, billboards, bus ads, magazine covers, and rally cries of politicians on both sides using this sentiment to try to gain voter sympathies and in my mind, it was absolutely revolting. How disgusting, to take advantage of others' loss for political and/or financial gain. This turned me off from wanting to know more and I moved on. Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of this tragedy, and being an adult now, I felt it was time to finally open myself to what had happened, now that I am more mature and emotionally capable of understanding and dealing with the magnitude of what happened. Like many others, I watched a couple of the tribute shows, especially the ones featuring firsthand footage and old news broadcasts, so I could basically "catch up" on what I had missed ten years ago. For the very first time, I watched footage of an old event and it felt brand new. Suddenly it felt like discovering a wound that I didn't know was there until the scab was ripped off. Even though it was sad listening to the stories of the of the people who had lost loved ones that day, that wasn't what struck me. It was watching the structures crumble and the ensuing dust cloud (which to me looked like a pyroclastic flow) and watching the reaction of the people seeing it happen on the news in Times Square that made my head spin. That was the first time I truly felt the immense sadness and loss of the attack. For the very first time, I cried about it and felt ridiculous at having taken so long to experience these emotions. Maybe it's because I'm an adult now with a family of my own that I can empathize with those who lost their loved ones. When I was younger, I couldn't even conceive of loving someone that much and the possibility that they would be taken from me someday. There's also the fact that to this day, I have never lost anyone that I'm close to, and all of the people I care about are still in my life. Never having dealt with loss, maybe it just didn't affect me as much. Now that I have children, my job as a parent is to constantly be on alert to things that could harm them, whether it's a tiny toy they could choke on, touching the surfaces at the doctor's office, smarmy looking strangers, or possible emotional traumas from well-intentioned family members. Being on the alert is part and parcel to recognizing that there is always the possibility of losing the people I love most in my life and that I must do everything in my power to ensure that that does not happen. I believe that this aspect of adult life has very much-so impacted my faculty for empathy and my value for human life. Even though it may have taken ten years for me to register what happened, I guess it's better late than never.

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