Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and 9 Av

I woke up this morning in my usual pre-coffee haze. I recently told my friend Leah about my dependence on caffeine to set my mind right, and she said something like, “That makes me glad I don’t drink coffee.” But I disagree. I love waking in confusion and suspicion towards reality, and then slowly returning to humanity as I slurp a hot drink. I remember my parents waking up that way, and somehow it’s sort of comforting to start each day like that.

Anyway, as I was boiling water and thoughts were flying around in my head unbidden and unorganized, I suddenly thought of how much I love the Jacky Handy quote, “It’s too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something as simple as wild dogs.”

And as I was drinking my coffee and starting to add the quote to my Facebook profile—this is surely a generational thing: does it seem icky to you that I’m always running to my laptop to repeat my thoughts to the internet? Well, it seems weird to me when people younger than I share what they are doing from their mobile devices.

Wait—another digression: my (older) husband asked me to not share the following query on Facebook when it arose as a marital dispute, but now that it’s settled I feel better about sharing it on my blog: Is Poland the same as Russia for purposes of vodka? I said no, but I have happily been proven wrong. Polish vodka is awesome and comes with a little shot glass built into the cap. I am humbled before my lord and master.


As I was adding the quote to my profile, the sun appeared outside my window, ascending between two high-rises as a fiery red ball. I sucked in my breath and said, “Ma rabu maasecha,” how great are Your creations. And I was filled with joy at the changing of the seasons, the fact that the sun now rises after I wake for the day. I thought of all the changes—the cooling of the air, the pinkening pomegranates on the trees, the timing of the dew soaking my roof-hung laundry. It’s funny that I live in a city and yet I am so keyed-in to the shifts of nature. I never felt that way when I lived in Manhattan.



Oh, Manhattan.

I looked at the calendar.

* * *

I lived on the Upper West Sid e of Manhattan for six years, altogether. The morning of September 11, I was (yes) drinking coffee and listening to the local public radio station, WNYC, as I got read for work. I had become engaged to the man who would become my husband just days before. I was 20 years old and filled with anticipation and a wonderful kind of resolution and settledness. It was jarring when, instead of discussing the events of the day, the radio commentators began to describe a scene unfolding outside their Twin Towers-adjacent windows: a plane! Hitting a tower! An accident? And then . . .

I called my fiancĂ© and tried to explain to him what I was hearing. He was groggy and not in a mood for my anxiety. I went to work in midtown and moved through the day. My coworker and I were in the midst of planning a weekend retreat. We just continued the normal sequence of our workday routine, raising our eyebrows at suitemates gathered around a television in the conference room. We couldn’t fit our minds around it. Outside, the streets filled with smoke and dust.

I remember everything that followed. The amity among New Yorkers that felt like it would never dissipate. The smell of burning in the air for weeks. The stories of near-misses, acquaintances averting disaster with a late arrival to work. The mawkish memorabilia appearing quickly at every corner kiosk—weeping bald eagles and the like.

* * *

Ten years later and continents away, the sobriety of the day impresses itself upon me. New York, the world and all time seems divided by that day—everything after became Everything After. And even in Jerusalem, I feel a pang for my old city.

That’s what it is to be a witness. The event looms large even with the passage of time. It seems impossible to go on as usual and post a silly quote on Facebook. Solemnity is intuitive.

I think of the mental gymnastics it takes each year to get in the spirit of 9 Av, the date of the Temple’s destruction. New York is not my Jerusalem. Jerusalem is my Jerusalem. And yet, when it comes to 9/11, the place and the date so readily call up shock and sorrow in a way that is far more natural than what I experience on 9 Av. Because I don’t just know about it, I remember it.

That’s why the reading of Eicha, Lamentations, is more affecting than any historical retelling or multimedia presentation—the prophet Yirmiyahu was an eye-witness to the destruction. Sitting on the floor, intoning Eicha in a sorrowful chant, the modern-day mourner is drawn into the prophet’s horror and despair.

But I don’t want to be a mourner of Manhattan or Jerusalem anymore. I don’t want to live in sorrow for the past and fear of the future. I don’t want to look at my neighbors with slitted eyes, wondering when they will have had enough of me.

I want to take the light rail to the rebuilt Temple. I want the post-9/11 unity to spread throughout the world. I want to know and see and feel God’s goodness all around me. I want an end to destruction.


pam opper said...

Well said, Chaya. Thank you for speaking for all of us today who can not find words to express what our hearts know and will never forget.

Espresso Aroch said...

Well said, as usual. Thanks.

If I may be excused for going off-topic, your friend's comment about coffee reminded me of many similar comments I have heard in the past few years. For example: it's not right to be dependent on anything (well, why not, if it's safe and legal?), if you're tired you should sleep (OK, if you want to, but what if you'd rather drink coffee and keep going?) and coffee "isn't good for you" (nonsense).

I have heard these comments only from seriously frum women, and I think only non-salaried ones. The tone is usually self righteous, the implication that a coffee habit is a moral failing.

Do you hear any of that? What do you think?

Chaya said...

Oh, agreed agreed, Espresso. Although my friend is not remotely self-righteous. I have erred in my presentation if it appears that way.

I think the pleasures of caffeine, alcohol, sugar and chocolate are some of God's little kindnesses. If others don't agree, it's their loss, I say. More for us.

Smugness about what we've achieved (even dubious achievements) is human nature. It takes great strength to overcome it.

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