9/11 Where I was


I logged into my email from the worship office at the U of I Newman Center, where I worked as a sacristan. There was a message on a Church email list (the K-list, for those who know what that is) from, I believe, John Bambenek, stating that one tower had been hit and that another plane had gone missing. A follow-up email from somebody else reported that the towers had fallen. Struck with disbelief, I went downstairs to the Newman Hall lounge. The first person I saw simply said, "They're gone."

I went to one class at mid-day, and though we discussed the events, nobody really knew what was going on. The rest of the day I spent in or around the chapel. Fr. Stanley, the associate chaplain there at the time, had asked the Sacristans to be around in case students wandered in looking for people to pray with or a priest to talk to.

I talked to a few distraught students, not very many, and instead spent much of the time in the chapel or sacristy, alternately praying and reading a book for an upcoming paper. Later, we locked up the chapel and some of the sacristans converged to relax after a long and spiritually tough day.

It was then that I first saw any images of what happened. Throughout the day, I had heard snippets of info from friends: people jumping from the towers, maniacs in the Middle East dancing in celebration, etc, and so I was intensely curious to view some of these images myself.

It was jarring to see the second plane hitting the tower, but I found that I was not nearly as disturbed (or distraught, or pissed, or whatever adjective you wish to use) as many other people I talked to in the following few days. It kind of bothered me, and I really wanted to get to the bottom of why I felt this way. Was I that heartless?

The answer - to an extent - is yes. I did some self-examination of my disposition in the months following 9-11-01 and I realized that death has never much disturbed me. I've found that at funerals and other situations of grief, I tend to be moved and saddened more by the grief of others than by the actual events that transpired. Deep down, a part of me gets frustrated with people who get overly-emotional. It's not something of which I'm particularly proud, but I dealt with some pretty rotten stuff by myself when I was a kid, and I think some of this inner hardness of heart stems from that. I don't like it, but to be honest, it's there.

On the other hand, this was different. I *was* pissed. I was horrified by what I heard and angry at the injustice that had been perpetrated. I saw people all day - many of them friends whom I love dearly - who were wrecks, and more than anything THAT made me angry and frustrated. Why were they more "affected" than I?

Quoth the trauma experts:

In a nationally representative sample of 2,773 adults, clinically significant distress was associated with hours of terrorism-related television watched per day and number of different types of graphic terrorism-related content watched. It should be noted that the prevalence of general distress was not greater than that typically seen in community samples.

Furthermore, in a subset of 691 New York City dwellers, number of hours of terrorism-related TV coverage watched was significantly associated with higher PTSD symptom endorsement but the content index was not (Schlenger et al., 2002).

Every time I think about that day, I'm grateful that I wasn't sitting in front of a television watching that second plane hit and watching the towers fall. Death is real and terrible. Evil is real and terrible and cannot be ignored or wished away. In that sense, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were a wake-up call to our county. But that is all too metaphysical. The cold reality is that many of us watched mass-murder live on TV.

The real-time video coverage of the events of 9/11 did real psychological harm to citizens of our country. We should all pray that we never again experience something like that day. We should all desire to protect our families and our children from witnessing such evil. Yet the next time it happens (pray it does not), how many of you will let yourselves watch and be wounded? Or expose your children to it.

I count myself lucky, blessed, that I had all day to reflect and pray before being confronted with the images. I refer back to them as rarely as possible, not because I can make 9/11 go away and forget about it, not because terrorism is an over-hyped myth, but because it's masochistic to repeatedly and intentionally introduce such tragedy into life.

This is why I don't understand those who think a good way to commemorate the occasion is to replay the massacre in slow motion. It's like ripping open the wounds all over again. Yes, it may ensure that we "never forget," but it also ensures that we never forgive or heal.

Far better to remember those who perished, both on that day and from the ensuing wars, to give thanks for their lives and to recount the real heroism that took place amid the horror, to pray for their eternal rest, and to ask God to forgive their murderers and to forgive and convert those who conspired to kill them.

Mary, Mother of Sorrows, pray for us!

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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on September 11, 2006 10:17 PM.

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