This morning, while Tom was out for a run and my baby girl was taking a nap, I heard sirens. A lot of sirens, actually. And for a moment, I felt afraid.
Every year I dread 9/11. Every single year. In fact, I usually make a point of avoiding all media coverage about it.
I know that I’m not alone in this sentiment. It’s funny…I know there have been plenty of times when I’ve felt irritated or frustrated with people for letting some past event have influence or control over their present day life. Seriously? Can’t you get over it already?
I think the most important lesson I’ve learned as an adult is that you cannot pass judgement over another human being without knowing the circumstances. Do I still judge people? Yeah. But I try not to. I’m one of those people. Every year on September 11, I feel a pit in my stomach.
In mid-August of 2008, I sat down for my final interview with the judges of the International Rose of Tralee Festival. It was at the end of almost two weeks in Ireland – without a doubt, some of the best and most exciting days of my life. I was riding high on a wave of self-confidence. And then they asked me about 9/11. Are New Yorkers over it yet?
I knew, being the New York Rose, that it was possible they might ask me about it. This question, however, took me completely by surprise.
Are we over it yet?
I had to pause and collect my thoughts. My first reaction was that it was an insensitive and even ignorant question. I told them (I think), that I couldn’t speak for everyone. I personally chose not to live my life in fear. The events of 9/11 didn’t dictate where or how I traveled in New York or anywhere else in the country. But are we over it? We’re living our lives. New York is our home. It’s my home. You don’t forget something like that.
I remember feeling very dissatisfied with the interview. Not because I wanted to win the title, but because I was frustrated I couldn’t express myself better.
In the years following, I’ve thought about that interview a lot. The first thing I realized was that the question was not meant to be offensive. As large as the U.S. is, there’s no reason to expect the people of Ireland or any other country to really understand how we feel. The same goes for any tragedy abroad. We just don’t know.
I’ve also examined my own feelings on the subject.
Everyone has a story. I could have told them mine. I was a freshman in college and felt an overwhelming guilt that I wasn’t home. My father got out of the city on the back of a truck. I could have told them that his childhood friend, Tim O’Sullivan, was killed in the towers. He was a gentle giant at 6’7″ and 300 pounds and always humored my childhood dreams of zoology. He worked for the Wildlife Conservation Fund and often gave us “behind the scenes” visits at the Bronx Zoo. Earlier in 2001, a newlywed couple moved into the house across the street from my parents. The husband was killed, and she left soon after. Policemen and firemen from my hometown, which is less than 20 miles from NYC, were killed.
I’m not unique. Any New Yorker could tell you stories like this. And that’s what it is. It’s personal.
I’m also not unique in that I have a love/hate relationship with New York City. It drives me crazy. There are days when every panhandler in the world is on my subway car, whatever train I’m on is delayed for 30 minutes with no explanation, it’s too hot/humid to live, a tourist just stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, it smells like piss, there’s a crazy person shouting on the corner and I HATE. IT. HERE. And then maybe I leave for a little while, and I’m homesick for my city.
I’m not going to lie, ever since Willow was born I’ve been ready to leave. I want my house and my yard and my SUV in the suburbs. The thing is – I don’t want to go too far. I really don’t. I want Manhattan to be a quick drive or train ride away. It’s hard to imagine not being nearby.
When I saw Rabbithole, I was struck by an analogy used in it. A character whose son had died likens her grief to carrying a stone in your pocket. It’s heavy and difficult, but eventually you get used to the weight. Some days you even forget it’s there until you reach in and feel it.
I don’t go around thinking about 9/11. I don’t live in fear. I love my city. I am so incredibly proud of my city. Then maybe one afternoon a movie from the late 90’s is on TV and there’s a beautiful shot of Manhattan and there are the twin towers. That’s when I feel that familiar pit in my stomach. Just like I asked my parents about JFK, I know someday Willow will ask us where we were on September 11th. It’s one of a thousand things I wish I could shield her from. I can only pray she doesn’t have to experience something like that in her lifetime.
I’m not really sure what my takeaway is here. I think sometimes I feel guilty for not posting patriotic status updates or not turning on the news. Sometimes I feel guilty for being frightened. Sometimes I feel angry. Sometimes I feel defensive. Sometimes I just want to cry. Sometimes its just…a lot. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I was grateful to be halfway around the world on my honeymoon. I felt guilty about that, too.
I don’t want to run away from the pain, nor do I want to dwell on it. It’s just always going to be there.
So here it is – my moment of public patriotism. I love New York. I will never, ever forget.