Friday, September 11, 2009

The One-Eyed Monster

In the course of thinking about September 11, 2001, it occurred to me that I can now access almost any kind of news anytime I want. This wasn't true 8 years ago. I had a kindergartener and a third grader, and we lived the way Barbara Kingsolver describes in her essay "The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don't Let Him In" (collected in her volume Small Wonder). The monster, as she describes it, is "the screen that most people happily host in their living rooms." A TV.

We have a TV, and we got cable when my daughter was in first grade because her public school teacher required (yes, REQUIRED) her to watch the Olympic Games that fall. We get about 12 channels, I think, and mostly use the TV, which is downstairs, to watch DVDs. I've never understood having to watch something at a certain time. Like Kingsolver, I don't know "what many public figures look like....and in some cases I may not know quite how to pronounce their names." Also like her "I know the vulnerability of my own psyche well enough to avoid certain films that are no doubt instructive and artful but will nevertheless insert violent images into my brain that I'll regret for many years. Obviously, I read verbal accounts of violence and construct from them my own mental pictures, but for whatever reason, these self-created images rarely have the same power as external ones to invade my mind and randomly, recurrently, savage my sense of wellbeing."

I never saw, for instance, a person leaping from one of the twin towers. I read about it. But as far as I know, it wasn't replayed after that day. Even someone who doesn't usually watch TV might have watched some of the coverage that day, but I had a kindergartener. He was upset by hearing the news reports on the radio, let alone being exposed to the images on TV, and he wasn't leaving my side, not being a child who took a nap. He had missed kindergarten because when he woke up with a rash, I took him to his pediatrician, and about 9:15 am, the nurse came into the exam room to tell us that the rash was a mild case of chicken pox. I was unbelieving. "He had the vaccine for chicken pox," I told her, just as another nurse came in and told us something about a plane hitting a building in New York. We finished at the pediatrician and I took him to a big box store to buy soothing oatmeal bath for the itchiness. It was the quietest store I'd ever been in. No one spoke, except for my 5-year-old merrily chattering away.

The rest of the day was like that, and most of the rest of the week. I couldn't go anywhere because I had a child who was contagious with chicken pox. I didn't talk to any adults except my husband at the end of each day. So for me, the events of 8 years ago have always seemed a little unreal. I don't have the same kind of fears that many Americans do because I never saw the monster. I was not left, as Kingsolver says some people are, "so overtaken and stupefied by the tragedies of the world that we don't have any time or energy left for those closer to home."

A "day of service" can be a good thing, but it does strike me as an inadequate memorial. So many of us are overloaded with all the services we provide already that all we can feel is guilty about not taking on another impossible load. "On Veteran's Day we watch a movie," my children told me as they went off to High School this morning, "but we don't do anything for September 11."

Do you do anything? Or are we still too "overtaken and stupefied"?


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what I think a proper memorial activity would be...except quiet remembrance and sending out the hope that human beings will one day rise above their darker nature.

FreshHell said...

We don't do anything to memorialize a day that occured when my oldest child was a baby and youngest nonexistant (unless you are believe in past lives). I've tended to let life go on. The oldest is aware that it happened. I think when they get older, these kinds of events will require more thought and energy.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

I write about every year, sometimes here, sometimes elsewhere. As a historian, I'm inclined to think that memory itself is as valuable as anything I can do.

Andrew said...

I wonder if the need to remember and do justice to the event hasn't manifested itself in a more general memorial attitude--one that's not really specific to one calendar date. I'm thinking of flag decals on cars and "God Bless America" during Seventh Inning Stretches and the flag lapel pins that are standard equipment for candidates for public office.

Alyce said...

I was one of those people that sat and watched the tv for days on end when it happened. I was also the greatly sleep-deprived first time mother of a one month old baby. It was not a good combo for mental health. After a while I just had to turn the tv off.

What I remember is going to the Walmart on our block the next day and all of us customers in the store talking and hanging out together like we were long lost friends. It was very strange - nice, but strange, and that camaraderie really only lasted a few days before things went back to normal.

I used to watch the news specials on tv each year marking the anniversary. Then five years ago on September 10th I went into labor. I had my youngest son on the morning of September 11th. Now it is a day of celebration, and the tv stays off (or at least tuned in to something happy like cartoons).