Atrocities on the other side of the world
are just sad little tragedies through our screens,
such an end of the world
These words are lyrics from a PIERROT song called REBIRTH DAY and they perfectly sum up the bizarre feelings I had while watching America suffer due to the events of September 11th, 2001. I wasn’t in the United States when the attacks on the Twin Towers went down. At that time, I was teaching English in Japan. I didn’t even hear about the attacks until Joe Holley sent me an email. I remember turning on the TV and of course that first image of one flaming tower was striking but as soon as we learned a second plane had hit… well,
My first instinct was one of preservation. I’m from the east coast and my family were living in New England at the time, so I feared for their safety. I felt so helpless viewing it all from the opposite side of the globe. Once it became clear that the attacks were over and that my family was safe. There was an eerie calm.
I didn’t know how to feel and I wanted someone to tell me desperately.
As the days passed, Japan just seemed to care less and less about the end of my world. It wasn’t front page news any more, it came after “The Dog of the Day” on the news broadcast. At first I was angry. How dare they turn their backs on the United States –the country that not only forgave them their trespasses during World War II, but helped to rebuild them into one of the most prosperous nations of the day. This wasn’t even just the U.S., this was the World Trade Center. This was an attack on the global system!
But then despite my country’s pleas to the contrary, I forgot. What an adorable labrador!
Or I would have if I weren’t being followed around by a never-ending pity party, in which people offered me their condolences and tried to help me see the bright side. Eventually I just couldn’t feel anything. It was like watching things happen in a fishbowl, there were no consequences. The world wasn’t mine. It’s just fish.
I hated that I couldn’t feel the horror the way my countrymen did but then I just shrugged and moved on.
Don’t judge me for this. There’s a clear PRECEDENCE. We lost less than 3,000 people in 9/11. The Rwandan Genocide cost the world up to 800,000. Did you shed a tear for them?
This doesn’t mean that either event was any less a tragedy but it does mean that people removed from the horrors, can’t be blamed for the onset of apathy.
It wasn’t until I came home a few years later that I understood. It was a fresh wound. In every Americans eyes I saw those towers fall and I had to look away for fear they would see the crystal clear sunrise in mine. These people had lived in a pressure cooker of pain since that day and they’d found solace in each other… I had sung karaoke and eaten eel cakes.
I took a job in New Jersey not long after coming home and it was my first chance to see ground zero. I wish I could say it was memorable but it was just a bunch of rubble wiped away by time and tide. I felt nothing. The real legacy of the American people was not a building or a symbol or a day. It was the people we lost, and the people who were left behind. Nothing more, nothing less. It was the brief moment in our history when everyone put aside their differences and joined in a group hug. I wish I could’ve seen more of that. What I truly missed when I was gone, wasn’t terror. It was love. And while the terror remains, I’m sad to say that the love seems to have evaporated with the new day’s dawn.
On the ten year anniversary of 9/11, maybe we could honor those we lost and the those that live in the echoes by shutting our stupid faces and hugging each other again.
That’s the country I came home to and that’s the country I want to feel for.