My post about what happened to America on September 11, 2001, begins with a recent story about my 18-year-old son.
A few weeks ago, I dropped him off at college. I knew it would be difficult, but it was even harder than I had expected. He’s my middle child, my stoic, the boy who went from a chatterbox toddler to a strong, silent Gary Cooper type overnight. Only he was five years old at the time.
Still, our hearts were connected. He has never had to tell me how he felt. I could intuit it. Always. So when I hugged him goodbye and left him at his dorm, I felt like I was leaving a piece of my own heart behind.
Melodramatic? Sure. But there’s more to the story.
Four years ago, the kid had a health crisis. I won’t go into details, except to say he lost so much weight so quickly that by the time we got a diagnosis he was down to 89 pounds. I thought I might lose him, and believe me when I say those were the scariest months I have ever lived through. A mother doesn't get over that kind of thing quickly. Or ever.
And also, he still gets treatments for his illness and probably always will. So I wasn't just saying goodbye to an 18-year-old college freshman, I was letting go of a kind of vigilance that had been woven into my psyche.
When I posted my feelings about this grief on Facebook, most of my friends were supportive. But one woman, who had recently lost a family member, thought I was saying my grief was as devastating as hers, and took exception. Of course, I didn't argue with her about it. I understand that her loss is real and permanent, while mine is … merely a terrible feeling I will get over. But. I have the right to this feeling. It’s not better, worse or in any way comparable to hers. It just is.
And this brings me to some thoughts about September 11th. When I saw that I was scheduled to post a blog on this day, I panicked. It wasn't that I thought I had nothing to say, but that I had no right to say it. After all, I hadn't lost a husband or sister or child or best friend on that day, as so many had. And I would never, ever want to undermine the magnitude of that loss.
Still, the hard knot of remembered pain revisits me with brilliant clarity every September 11th. The vivid blue of the sky that day … the TV screen in my bedroom, where I sat alone watching the live broadcast of a “freak accident” that had just occurred …. the chill of understanding when the second plane came into view … the blankness of confusion when the buildings seemed to disappear into a cloud of brown powder. I can’t possibly be seeing what I think I’m seeing, therefore I am not seeing it. And then, a leaden, inarticulate string of days in which the word apocalypse seemed to coat our throats and thoughts with dry gray dust.
So there’s sorrow and grief and remembering. And no, it’s not the same as it is for those who have lost loved ones. Their grief is unimaginable. Still, I’ll let myself feel the sadness of this day just as I let myself feel pangs of sorrow at releasing my son from my arms. And later, I’ll let myself feel hopeful about his future. Because despite everything, I know he is capable of such greatness.
See? I wrote about America after all.
Ellen Meister is the author of four novels, including FAREWELL,DOROTHY PARKER and THE OTHER LIFE. She lives in New York and teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education. For more information visit ellenmeister.com.