Daily routine hasn't shifted, but sorrow affects all

Terrorism Strikes America

September 14, 2001|By Susan Reimer

IN THE AFTERMATH of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, we are being told that we must recognize that life in this country will never be the same.

That our children will remember all their lives where they were when they heard the news, just as we remember where we were when President Kennedy was killed, and our parents remember where they were when they heard the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

We've been told that we will find our civil liberties and our sense of freedom constricted, that our young people will lose the innocence we lost during Vietnam, that our youngsters will have bad dreams and trouble sleeping for a while, that we should expect to be irritable and tearful and lethargic for many days.

No less than the editorial page editors of the New York Times have declared that, "It was, in fact, one of those moments in which history splits, and we define the world as `before' and `after.'

"Remember the ordinary, if you can," the Times wrote.

Except that my life continues to be very ordinary, and I am ashamed of that, and frustrated by it.

My routines were barely interrupted by Tuesday's devastation, and my tasks returned to the mundane with unseemly speed.

The kids still require dinner, a trip to the drugstore, a ride to a friend's house, a credit card for the gas station, a key to get in the house, and permission to go to Six Flags this weekend.

And with every one of these silly tasks, I feel as inappropriate as if I am laughing out loud in a funeral home.

There is the daily cell-phone tag, the same arguments about cleaning up the kitchen and putting laundry away. I have to help with an English poetry assignment and proofread an essay. There are messages on the answering machine to clear, and the recycling bins have to come in from the curb.

There is no solace in these routines. Instead they are like static in my brain, interfering with whatever silent accommodations my heart is trying to make with the days' events.

I wish I could say that I spoke softly to my children and soothed their troubled hearts, but I did not. When I tried to embrace them, they pushed me away as if I were making them hot.

"Mom," my 17-year-old said with impatience, "we'll let you know if we need to see a psychiatrist."

I am glad he is OK, but I cannot reconcile the fact that so many people died terrible, fiery deaths for the sin of the American citizenship which I share, and I still have to get to the grocery store before dinner.

I want to kneel in church and pray until my knees ache, or sleep for days and wake to a different reality, or walk along the ocean and let the sound of the surf pound the dark thoughts out of my head.

What I don't want to do is stop at the dry cleaner for my husband's trousers or make sure the soccer uniforms are clean in time for the next game, even if my doing so would demonstrate to terrorists that I am a resilient American.

Perhaps our leaders are right, and life in America has irrevocably changed. But I think that for most Americans, it has not. The work day must still be gotten through, and the family must still be cared for, and few of us have the luxury of stopping long enough to absorb the events of Tuesday.

Many of us who did not lose a loved one Tuesday will continue moving through the days and months ahead as we have moved through the days and months just passed.

But we will do so with the knowledge that hundreds of other very ordinary, very mundane lives have suddenly, violently ceased.

And with that knowledge comes a sadness that we can never completely put aside.

That is how our lives have changed. And that is all the difference in the world.

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