A baby died today.
Another last week. Another the week before.
Friends of mine. Friends of friends. Blogs of women I read.
Recently, a friend talked about leaving My Face after her baby died, because people kept posting about mundane shit. About Starbucks and laundry. I remember thinking that when I logged back onto my preferred social networking site after Lucy died. The world kept moving forward, going on. People were still obsessed with their petty shit while my world was falling apart. The people who couldn't bother to say I'm sorry were posting about their breakfasts. And yet, it is what it is. My Face wasn't a place where I engaged in deep conversation about the meaning of life. It was a place where I played Scr.abble and made the same type of jokes I have made for decades with people I have known for decades. I always call it the illusion of friends. Your loss suddenly juxtaposed against constant updates about someone's boredom. It is startling and s cruel, some days. And to be frank, some days it is comforting to know people aren't wracked with grief and that someone is out there functioing. But I always expect more from people who call themselves my friends.
But recently, when the discussion started amongst some dbms about My Face and babyloss, it reminded me of September 11th. I actually worked in a fairly tall twin tower building in Philadelphia during the September 11th attacks. I had just started working there a few months earlier, and was making copies when I saw a bunch of engineers huddled in a cubicle pointing to someone’s computer screen. I heard the word, “Airplane.” I headed back to my office as I watched people sort of gathering in groups around the incredibly formal, quiet office in which I worked. It was curious, but I didn’t know these people.
Well, not really well. I always felt out of the circle of emails and chatting engineers. I was still feigning complete work focus, meaning I rarely if ever emailed during work or you know, started a blog or anything. As my comfortability grew, that became a different story. But September 11, 2001, I was still the newbie. I talked to one man often, Joe. He had a stutter and is a Christian Iraqi. We talked about religion often and his country. Of our families. He didn’t really have other friends at work, per se, because he was very shy. But for some reason, we used to talk often. Maybe both of our statuses as people outside of the circle. We would chit chat, look at pictures of his children, and exchange cool world music we found on-line. As I headed back into my shared space, one girl was hysterically crying, as the other cuddled her. “My father,” she cried, “he works there.” And I was still flummoxed. I wanted to ask, but not pry. Like I said, I didn’t know these people, and I half noticed my computer screen while trying to listen in on their conversation, an email sat on my screen from my sister, “Holy shit, a plane went into the World Trade Center. And while I was watching the news, another plane went into the other one. Dad and I are crying. Come home. Now. If you can leave the city. Love, your twin.”
No one could log onto CNN anymore, or NY Times, or the Philly Inquirer. Planes were crashing into places on the East Coast. Places my friends lived. Places my friends worked. My co-worker’s father called her. He was fine. He happened to call into work with bronchitis. And we turned on NPR and listened. I still hadn’t really seen anything. There were words about a tragedy. A plane into a building was something I could not even really visualize. I didn't understand what all of this meant, but I listened horrified as the announcer described fires, people falling...Was Philadelphia a target? Were we just sitting here waiting for the same fate?
I headed to Joe’s cubicle. And we listened to the first tower collapse. And he started laughing and crying. “Wh-wh-wh-what is happening?” We held hands as they began evacuating us. Down ten flights of stairs with everything important to us in our cubicles. "I think there is a war in America," I said. Joe nodded, and seemed to know exactly what that was going to mean for us all.
No empty cabs. It was chaos on the street as office building after office building evacuated suited, dazed people wondering what was happening to our world and wandering about trying to figure out what to do next. Was this war? I walked the thirty some blocks home, wondering where my boyfriend was, if my friends were safe. I didn’t have a cell phone. Nothing happened in Philadelphia, as we all know now. All of my friends in Washington D.C. and New York were fine.
All of this is to say: it was an ordinary day for me by all accounts. No one I knew died. No one I knew suffered from losing a loved one. I was just one of the millions of people who felt terror from the terrorists. And yet, I was so profoundly affected by that experience. Not to sound too new age-y or anything, but I felt the shift in the atmosphere--the immense losses felt by the world. Tangible losses--mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Intangible losses--safety, comfort, security. It made me aware of how safe my world is most days. It made me connect with the millions around the world who suffer from war and suffering on a day to day basis, where bombs and threats are part of daily existence. Of course, I always keep the experience in perspective--I get to return to my relatively safe world.
After Lucy died, I had this profound experience of seeing people as the embodiment of their suffering. In some ways, I felt connected to everyone by loss and suffering. I felt an iota of that feeling after 9/11. I forced myself to witness the tragedy, over and over again for the next few days. I stayed glued to the constant coverage, even though it made me cringe, even as some of those images haunted me. I grew sad and depressed for months. I wanted to be someone who wouldn't let this tragedy go unnoticed. I cried genuine tears for the families. I mourned for losses that never touched my life. In some ways, I hoped I never returned to the person I was before that day--a naive, ignorant person.
I feel that when I read and see things like the earthquake in Haiti, the bushfires of last year, the tsunami...I cannot quantify each person's suffering, but I can bear witness, stand as someone who will remember each loss as important, even if they are presented merely as a number in the media, or as a headline glossed over.
I have never been on a subway so quiet as the one after September 11th. Everyone sat still, sunken faces, their eyes fixed forward. No one spoke. It was like a subway car full of zombies. For weeks afterward, our building was routinely evacuated because of bomb threats, white powdered envelopes, random fire alarms and checks. I became a fire marshal trained to lead hysterical people out of a burning building. I received an orange vest, a whistle and a flashlight, which really was the extent of my training. When things became less, uh, tense, I often used them to pretend the fire drill was a rave.
The whole experience of September was so life-changing for me. It was so important to me. People live with this fear every day of their lives.
I didn't, I mean, you know, until my daughter died.
I often am struck while walking alone in a Targ.et or driving down the highway. "Where is my husband? Where is my mother? My sister? What if?" I'm not sure I want to be away from everyone I love even for a second. But that is not rational either. But back to My Face and this whole idea of the world moving forward.
I admit that every week I read the sex column Savage Love, which is ironic, because the most lurid I get in terms of nookie these days is asking the question, "You mean, right now?" But there is something shocking and fascinating about people’s sexual questions, their fetishes, and about what they seek advice. After September 11th, there was no regular programming on television. I remember reading columns and hearing reports about when we will America be ready to watch comedies again? When will laughing be appropriate? My Wednesday lunch ritual was to look up the newest copy of the Onion, and then read the Savage Love column in the AV club. The Onion's first issue after September 11th was a picture of the World Trade Center with the planes crashing into it and the headline: "Holy Fucking Shit!" The entire issue was one big cathartic laugh. It was the first time that I laughed since thousands died at work that day.
But Dan Savage's column sort of lodged in my brain. I don't know how to say it without sounding completely hyperbolic, but it sort of resonates in me all the time. Suddenly, some perspective. What the column consisted of was Dan Savage saying he is not sure he can do his job anymore, since terrorists crashed planes into buildings. So, he called out all the assholes who sent him questions about sex, or complaints about how boring he had become, or asking him to clarify his position on something as the towers were coming down. He did what I want to do on My Face every day. I want to post status updates, "A baby died today. Who cares if your dog pissed in the shape of Portugal? This is real life. Real suffering. Gain some fucking perspective."
Is that under 140 characters?
The column is here, actually, if you are interested.