Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

September 19, 2011

I have to respond to your amazing responses

I am sitting in my office, with a candle burning.  The fountain outside my window is streaming and my dog is sleeping on my couch.  All is peaceful.


And yet.  I have just spent time reading your responses to my 9/11 post and I am roiling inside, in community with you all as we parse it all out together.  The fact that you took time to tell your stories in detail and so elegantly – I don’t want to sound like a teacher, but you guys can WRITE.  I truly feel like I got to know each of you – and this community  — better through your posts.


Two of the posts especially got to me, because they articulated things beyond the one event. (Forgive me for using your Twitter names in this serious discussion.  A little incongruous.)


“Miss Kitten” is from Norway.  She connects the 9/11 attack with the attack in Oslo, and through the latter she understood and felt connected to the events of 9/11 in a way that she couldn’t have before.


And “Bia” wrote a brave post, saying yes 9/11 was tragic, but is not the loss of life in Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, and yes the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragic too?  Sensitively written, “Bia” did not want to offend, but wanted to contextualize the mourning of 9/11 with the mourning of other acts of terrorism and war.  I would extend the discussion even further by including tragedies of poverty, abuse, gender and racial oppression.  Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of the brilliant “Half the Sky:  Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” have said that they were compelled to write the book after observing the outpouring of grief for the 3,000 lost on 9/11.  Without disregarding that grief, they wondered if they could access the same social response for the hundreds of thousands of women and girls who are literally “lost” every year through human trafficking and sexual servitude.


One tragedy doesn’t “win” over the other.  We want to sort things into a hierarchy – this thing is bad, but this thing is even worse – because that’s the way our minds work, I guess.  But maybe when the heart breaks as ours did, worldwide, on 9/11, it shatters that old hierarchical model.  Grief is grief, and when we feel our own grief, we feel everyone else’s too. We understand, as “Miss Kitten” did.  We become one with our brothers and sisters, as we did – however briefly – on 9/11.


People have talked about wanted to stay in that feeling of connectivity.  Can we get there without a collective tragedy?  By remembering 9/11, we remember that feeling, and that is what I felt reading your posts.  Without being morose or masochistic, is there a way to keep our wound just open enough to remember how connected we are?  Ed Bacon, the rector at my church, talked about “clean wounds” on 9/11 Sunday.  Before the inevitable anger and retaliatory plans  (some of which may be necessary, I guess, but I still struggle with that) there is a moment when we feel purely sad.  Our heart is broken open to a feeling of empathy we may not have had before.


Thank you, all, for your posts and for being part of my journey with all of this.  I have always felt that if people can tell their stories in a safe space, it transforms the community.  Your posts gave me further evidence of that.