Fifteen years ago to the day, my ex and I were in Reno. We’d driven the 8 hours with our then-2 year and 10 month old daughters, Julia and Livy, to combine James’ business trip with a visit with my mom, who’d driven from California to meet us. Courtesy of my sleepless daughters, we were awake early that morning, TV on, and when the South Tower started crumbling it looked—at first–like a puff of dust, and I can remember thinking the very same thing that Katie Couric(?) was saying: “What is that?”
“What is that?”
And fifteen years now, we know what it was and know what it is, and America became humbled by a hate so palpable we celebrate the anniversary of collective trauma together because none can bear this burden alone.
That day in Reno, my daughters played at a park, that had well-tended equipment placed in a garden setting with those little animals on springs that go back and forth and that spinny thing where you sit on a platform and hold onto bars as you’re spun into sickness, and while my daughters smiled and laughed, mom and I straddled two worlds, which almost seemed too incompatible to coexist, and when I returned home, I held my baby in the calm of night, sobbing as I rocked her in grief for the world she had already unknowingly relinquished.
But many good things come from tragedy. For it’s in the removal of false divisions that strength can be found and in contrast that we can see beautiful things more clearly.
James and I divorced in 2007 amid an epic shitstorm in which he broke hearts as if we were Sims, but when his brother Steve was deployed to Iraq that same year, our American flag got placed outside 1531 Garfield Avenue and remained there for the duration of his deployment (a year plus), becoming weathered and tattered and faded, a hole developing on the bottom, front corner as even the slightest wind had made it catch on the thorny bushes that edged our lawn.
When Steve returned home, the girls and I took the flag down, folded the frayed fabric as best we could, and gave it to James to give to his brother. James was a dick, but I sure as fuck wasn’t going to return fire. For the hate of 9/11/01 showed us how not to be and how not to live, but people died that day holding onto one another and heroes ran up stairs to save the lives of people they knew nothing about, and if they can be that, then so can we.
If we don’t see anything beautiful, we must make something beautiful. If we don’t see a helper, we must be the helper. If we don’t see the love, we must be the love.
If we make judgment against another, we must try harder.
For we can’t forget what happened that day wasn’t just about hate; it was about sacrifice and love and overcoming your own feelings in order to help a perfect stranger.