by Michael Ryerson
I didn’t intend writing anything very lengthy concerning the various tragedies surrounding 9/11. And I don’t intend for this to be very long either but a couple of hours of solitude, of sitting here alone in the early morning, I’m struck with a surprisingly deep sense of melancholy. It seems at once, a personal and a collective thing. Beyond comprehension really, the duality, a deflection point in our innocent lives, innocent to the degree some of us can still be innocent. The image of the first burning tower appears on a silent television screen in our family room as I am fighting with a windsor knot and a buttoned down collar. I stop mid-knot and reach for the remote control. My wife and I stand stock still and watch as the second plane roars into the other tower. We leave for work late, drive slowly, listening to the radio reports. Our son miles away in school, alone, too far, her parents, my in-laws, sitting in an airport waiting to board a vacation flight (have they lifted off?), one brother-in-law at work in the Pentagon (what side of the building?). The world slows down. The images become clear. The voices, the intonations crystaline. I have seen this before. It was the death of John Kennedy. It was my mother’s voice talking about Pearl Harbor. It was the birth of my son. At some point late in the morning, I feel the curtain coming down. I had seen this, too. It is one corpse too many. It is a dead child. It is an RN facing another amputation. It is a doctor with bad news. It is the vision you must not see. It is the vision that comes for your sanity. The warning bells are going off someplace in the back of my mind. What kind of evil is this? How do we bear it? Questions and answers, different questions and different answers for every single one of us and yet, the collective lurking, pulling us back to each other. We all struggle with our own realities, our own touchstones. I remember seeing a dead man once, in a sea of dead men, a man I had known in life, now lying, patiently waiting. I thought about him and his silly name, a name with a dual meaning and the ribbing he got almost daily over that name. How I had joked him mercilessly and took pleasure in his discomfort. I remember noticing what big feet he had, lying there waiting and how meaningless his big feet and silly name were now. How I could now see someone’s son. How I could see a man I never particularly liked, was never friendly with, lying there waiting. And I thought about someone, somewhere thinking this particular man was still alive, but he wasn’t and I was there thinking about being there with him as his friend. I think about him and the others when I try to see our experience here. I can see how meaningless our differences are.