Monday, September 11, 2006

12:01 9/11 2006

[Posted by reader_iam]

This day, I will do what I normally would be doing, on this particular Monday of every month--plus some extra "to-do's" which have been assigned to today, without regard to the date attached. I am beyond full-up of expectations to meet today.

But nothing I do today--no matter how familiar--will feel the same. Nothing ever has, however familiar the task or routine or whatever, on this date, each year, since 9/11/2001.

I am not a 9/11 anything in terms of philosophy, politics, view of history, perspective on human nature (some number of people will find that to be a familiar sentiment, expressed offline), at least not in the way that's meant by other people. Those--and there are several--to whom I refer know what I mean.

Experience on the day, of that day: Now, that's a different story. The emotional impact: That's a different story. Even the way I was raising my son--then one day shy of 15 months--now that's a different story. The very least of that is that, as trivial an observation as it may be to share, 9/11/2001 was the very first time I sat my kid in front of the TV with a video (and then another, and then anotheranotheranotheranotheranother) with the express purpose of it babysitting him. Something I'd said I would not do and had never done before. So I could watch the coverage. On multiple other TV's, on radio, via internet, all on at the same time, demanding my attention, demanding my attention away from him, from the very first moment I saw the very earliest of coverage, including stuff glimpsed that later deliberately wasn't broadcast, because of when I was up and how many news outlets, at the time, that were already up and running to greet me when I arose, or that I'd start up automatically upon rising, at the time, and monitor all at the same time.

For the first time, that morning, on 9/11/2001--though of course I kept a constant eye on him, from a room or two away (you'd have to know my home floor-plan, and its very unique properties, as a very old home added onto in idiosyncratic ways over the 142 years before we bought it, to understand how that's possible)--he was emphatically not the center of my world or attention. He was not my focus; focusing on him was not my primary mission or goal, that day. Except that I knew, right away, that day, right then, absolutely, that I was now raising a child whose world, from that day forward, had had its focus changed. He would be brought up from babyhood in a country, and in a culture, and in a civilization, which had just had its collective paradigm shifted, in a snap faster than the fastest click of the fastest camera shuttle.

Just. Like. That.

I thought, having had my child at 39, and in a far different climate than the one into which I was born, Cold War baby that I was, that my childhood and that of my son would have almost nothing in common. I'm both old enough and young enough for "civil drills" to have been routine in my childhood, from the get-go. I was raised in an atmosphere of international threat, of fears both inchoate and choate, and reflected domestically in myriad ways. We didn't think so much about it, as kids, in terms of routine, 'cause it was just the way it was. Our parents had their worries, we knew of them (how could we not?), and we knew there were a lot of fights "out there" about who were the goodies and the baddies. A lot of things were scary and uncertain, some first-hand and some by extension, because we knew our parents--and not just our parents, but so many adults--were upset. Scared, to varying degrees at varied times. Fighting with each other. Saying, about one side or another, that there was evil in the world. Saying, about one side or another, that people, in our own country even, weren't just different, weren't just disagreeing, weren't just wrong, but evil. Not really knowing what to do, so falling back on those timeless human coping mechanisms, criticism and bravado and bickering about off-point issues, as a way to put off dealing with the real elephant(s) in the room. Then there were the assassinations, the demonstrations, the acts of terrorism, the failed and divisive war ... .

The first couple of generations after me? An entirely different thing. I thought--no doubt stupidly, but also understandably--it'd be the same for my son, more likely than not. But no. What irony! Of all the things I might have wished could be shared experiences of childhood--but mostly aren't, because everything is different, from food to phones, from TV to tech, from mood to musts and must-nots--this is what we're going to share? A childhood, in greater or less part, defined by the inchoate waiting and fears of adults who, while clearly having lost control of unleashed forces larger and more creeping, more all-encompassing, than expected or anticipated (all warning signs, ignored, to the contrary), still act if they have the first clue as to what to do? As if all their individual outrages are actually more important than collective unity in the face of potential threat that would render, if the latter fails, the former utterly irrelevant?

Last week, I was working on the rough outline of a post musing as to how much collective energy was being spent in the blogosphere readying up "Big Important Posts" about 9/11 for the day. Before I got it done and posted, I read Cal's 9/11 post, and a few others elsewhere, and they'd basically said what I wanted to say, and better. At that point--and particularly because of my own personal circumstances during this time period generally and my specific schedule for today--I decided I wasn't going to post at all, about 9/11, or on 9/11.

But just as midnight, central time, ticked us over from 9/10 to 9/11 tonight, I was preparing for bed, doing last minute pre-sleep things, and most specifically getting ready to make sure that televisions were off, radios were off, and all internet browsers were shut down, with no automatically updating news-aggregation sites left up. And it struck me: Prior to 9/11/2001, I would never have done any of those things. I always left browser windows up, and specifically with news sites open. I always left my kitchen TV, and often my office one upstairs, on and tuned to news stations. Clock radios were set to news stations.

For the most part, I don't do any of that anymore: leave things going to greet me--or other family members--immediately upon awakening, without any prefiltering, and just as a matter of blithe routine. I come down, each day, and still check, first of all and right away, what's happened overnight. But I do so stealthily, evaluating whether I want to go full-blown with the news check or not before my son goes to school, or wherever, or wait until he's gone or reliably distracted elsewhere. I'm not a sheltering mom by most people's standards, not by a longshot in many areas, but still: I want to take the pulse of the world and its news, each day, before my kid bumps up against it. So that I'm somewhat prepared. And because I know we're back in a phase where "blithe" is a foolhardy, even selfish, attitude to assume that one can, well, assume.

My mother, before my son was born and before 9/11, once talked about how she used to do something similar, back when my brother and I were just kids, even though she and my dad, like me and my husband, philosophically have always believed that news is something you share with your kids from early on, if you intend to raise for the world informed and not-naive citizens, with a sense of obligation to stay engaged and think and weigh things independently. (Obviously, her challenge was less than mine, given the explosion in mediums and media outlets, and their ubiquity!!!)

I thought then, about her story: How silly. What a transparent, largely pointless attempt to regain a semblance of control, a feeling of being in control, in an uncontrollable world.

I think now: I understand.

So as the clock ticked over from 9/10/2006 to 9/11/2006, I felt the compulsion, and at almost the very last minute, to sit down and write, just to write, to write--write what? what is there to write?--well, write something, I wasn't sure what exactly.

And you know what? I'm still not.