Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Wrong Word For Today

It's the anniversary of 9/11 today; if you own a media device then it's an almost inescapable event. Even popping to the pub this afternoon brought waves of coverage into my world. It's been 10 years. As ever, here's my disclaimer; I don't know what I am about to explore but I know I feel something complicated so here goes...

I feel like anniversary is an inappropriate word; I feel like we need a word which means a negative anniversary. Dress it up how you like, but we're not celebrating anything. You can try and celebrate the lives that were loved but I see this as positive mourning - it's to be applauded but it's not celebrating. An anniversary should be to celebrate a life that still exists; we need a new word.

I dislike days like this because I don't know how to be. As a general statement I can't bear Facebook statuses with "RIP" in them; they seem a tad crass to me no matter how well intentioned the person was. I struggle with forging a connection to something that was so powerful, so life changing for so many people... but was fairly remote for me. I feel a disconnection towards trying to emit sympathy because thousands of people lost their lives. Individuals lost individuals - that was the reality of it, trying to consider those individuals en masse and amalgamate their loss into something big enough for me to emote on feels shallower than ignoring it.

I watched parts of the coverage in the pub this afternoon and felt quite confused. There's a lot going on for me:

I should be watching it; it's respectful, it's historic, it's something we should all be banding together on.

I shouldn't be watching this; I have no emotive connection to it, it's rude to feed my emotional conscience on the grieving of others.

I don't want to watch this; I cannot for one second conceive of the pain anyone with a connection to those events is going through. And I don't want to.

I was 14 when the twin towers happened. I was doing a school project at my friend Emma's house and my mother phoned to check I was OK. Of course I was OK, I remember thinking, I'm in a tiny village in rural England and this is happening in New York. I didn't really understand the way things like this shook adults; because I was a child and so it seemed like yet another film happening on the TV. We watched the coverage while doing our project, because deadlines weren't going to stop for us whatever happened in America, we had our priorities. We were children.

The media makes me feel I should be including myself in the coverage. Its asking me to be a part of it. I can't shake the feeling though... and I have no idea whether this is an acceptable way to feel... but, I can't shake the feeling, that it's really nothing to do with me. Yes, it was an atrocity that was aimed at people just like me, because of things that my society, and I, did and do. For all the things that 9/11 has stood for, my life has been impacted accordingly. I've lived with my country being war, I've had family members fighting over there, I've seen security and racial tensions tighten as a result.

But, for the memorial of the actual day; this is no place for me. I was a 14 year old cutting out shiny paper; I did not, and do not, grieve. I'm not meaning to speak cruelly; I don't not regret the loss of life, I wish it could have not happened, I think the world would be a better place had all those lives been saved. But, I can't grieve for people I didn't know and things that I didn't experience. I don't grieve for 9/11 any more than I am currently grieving for the starvation in Somalia. I can stop and consider the impact it has had on my life and on the world I live in, but that's all.

The media has done a curious thing to our reactions to death, in my opinion, we feel like we should be huddled together around a television watching the memorial services. Because we remember the day and because it was about something bigger. To me, and I may be in the minority, I think this is wrong. I think grieving is for the people who lost. The rest of us should be respectful enough to recognise that we are not grieving; what we have to deal with is something else. Ownership of an event is for the people in the eye of the storm and I dislike living in a world where it becomes something so strangely magnified via an external hand.


  1. Crying and being sad about something terrible that has happened is NOT the same as grieving.

    Also, its pretty normal and healthy to be upset and saddened by awful events that don't happen directly to us.

    This is apathy in its extreme.

  2. Providing one is alive, it's an inescapable event whether or not one owns a media device. This is a direct consequence of it being an anniversary viz. Not, by definition or etymology, a celebration, but the yearly recurrence of the date of a past event. You may find it useful - as a general rule of writing - to check the definition of a word before declaring it inappropriate for a given purpose.

    To describe what follows in the above as sophomoric would be hugely insulting to sophomores. Clearly you feel that a homicidal islamo-fascist attack on a free western democracy is not a fit - or 'appropriate' - subject for 'third-party' grief or sadness. The person above has shown why this is a nonsense. Beyond that, the greater tragedy is that you do seem to consider yourself a 'third-party'.

    Putting the personal tragedies to one side, 9/11 was an attack on freedom and liberty - the very things that make your 'frank' blogging (and, I see, your comedy)possible. If you feel no 'emotive connection' to what happened that day, I would suggest you seriously need to revisit some of the lessons you learnt in your history classes at 14.

    I'm sorry if I seem harsh, but I find it contemptuous that a 24 year old western woman - who has clearly had the benefit of education - can spout such ill-considered, apathetic drivel in the public sphere. For shame.

  3. Thank you for your comments - as I put throughout the blog, this is a personal piece of writing about my own difficulties with how to respond to the mass grief of others. I'm not suggesting at all that I am right or that how I feel is appropriate or normal. I'm just exploring my own reaction to this enormous event. I am writing about my inability to understand and respond to it. I appreciate your feed back and I take it very seriously. I would like to reiterate, however, that my views on the events of 9/11 are far from apathetic - I just see the motivations behind it as a separate issue from how one deals with universal tragedy. I was worried my eloquence would fail the issues I was struggling with in my head and it seems that it has on this occasion so I sincerely apologise if any offence has been caused from my writing.

  4. What a charming and classy reply, thank you. No offense caused - it takes a lot to make me cry (9/11 just about qualifies :-) )

    On the positive side, may I say that you write clearly and concisely (albeit with an odd affection for semi-colons) and I'm pleased I stumbled upon your blog - it's a shame you don't have more feedback on your other posts: many of them make for excellent reading.

    I sincerely hope my criticism has not upset you in any way and hope to return and enjoy your work again.