Yesterday, I listened only to radio news because I couldn’t bear to look. I searched for words of comfort, in lyrics and song. I scrolled through Facebook statuses and read all that people had to say and discovered I had nothing to say. I felt compelled to prepare my own statement. My own ahem. It seemed that everyone had one. And I’m a writer. But silence. Stillness. That felt more appropriate to me.
On September 12, 2001, I sat at a long wood table in Goldwyn Smith Hall. We were a group of sixteen creative writing students that later dwindled to ten. Our first assignments were due. My professor, Dan McCall, collected our words, piled them up in a neat, organized stack of typed pages. He sat back, at the head of our table, and asked us who had written of the tragedy the day before. No one raised a hand.
I remember, of all things about him, his voice. It was ragged and unkempt, this thick, almost bearded-like garble and he spoke slowly, like guiding a cane forward. He said that when he began teaching forty years ago every student in his class would have turned in a piece about the day that would come to be known as 9/11. He said they would have stayed up all night, ripped it from the pages of their notebooks, still warm from the pen. He said the stack before him would have been made of yellow legal pad paper and stained napkins, that the room we sat in would be a rupturing volcano, it is with that kind of urgency his students in the 60’s would write. Look at what happened yesterday, he said. And none of you have written a word.
On this kind of yesterday, I listened, as many did, to the President’s speech. Maybe it is telling, of our culture, of these times, that what struck us most was not the words he spoke but his long pause as he struggled to speak (5 seconds, the papers noted and reported.) In that silence, we realized the weight of what had happened.
I woke this morning, with a stirring, to come to this space, to assign words to all I feel. But in tragedies like these words still fail me. I worry that, in truth, I have failed them.