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"About suffering, they were never wrong, The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating, or opening a window, or just walking dully along..."
Musee des Beaux Arts, WH Auden
We're all compelled to tell our stories of September 11, 2001-- the meals we were eating, the windows we were opening, the dull steps we were taking as thousands suffered unimaginably from a vicious act of war, carried out in peacetime, against civilians. Suddenly the smallest details of our lives stood out in vivid beauty. We knew how lucky we were, just to be stepping through the weeds of our ordinary days, coming home to the kiss of that same old husband or wife.
My second book was published on 9/11/2001. I popped my daughter off to school and eagerly opened the New York Times website to read my review, and there I saw the news. A friend arrived, stricken, and we sat with my husband, staring at CNN, barely talking, barely even thinking. The towers fell so simply, like silk dresses slipping to the floor. The sky was unbearably blue.
A teacher from my daughter's school called-- they'd cut off television and internet there to keep from frightening the children, but her son worked in the north tower and she wanted to know what was happening. I almost said "Everyone died," because that was what seemed to be true, but caught myself and said what I wished, instead--that I thought most of the workers were out before the second plane hit.
It turned out that her son was late to work that day. He was fine. She told me that afternoon when I arrived with the other parents, all of us grim,confused, afraid. Nothing ever felt as good as my seven year old daughter's hand in mine that afternoon.
When I woke up that morning I'd thought of nothing but my new book--I'd worked on it for years, and I wondered what the reviews would be, what the readers would think, whether the world would finally recognize my great fabulousness and...well you can fill in the blanks. By evening I was just so grateful and happy my family was safe and together, I'd nearly forgotten the book.
I was certain everyone would feel a bit the way I did that day-- that we must come together in the face of this carnage, cease the idiotic political squabbling and start to talk honestly about our differences on substantive issues--and about our shared vision of a nation that thrives financially AND ethically. We'd all experienced something together, and I thought we'd be willing to really face some hard issues because of that, that our suffering would make us a more thoughtful, better group of people than we had been before.
Wow, was I ever wrong! But hearing Obama's speech this week, I felt that old hope rise up again. We have a listening, thinking, mediating President, in an age when listening, thinking, and compromise are rare. He's becoming bolder--not the bullying, insulting, weapon-toting kind of boldness-- but the boldness that comes naturally of working toward the good. My daughter, and the other kids who were swept up in their parents arms that day ten years ago, have had his example to live by. And they'll be voting next year.
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