When Will It Feel Right To Feel Right Again

After Tuesday's attack, our routines and rituals can seem trival. What is appropriate, and when?

Terrorism Strikes America

September 14, 2001|By Rob Hiaasen and Lisa Pollak | Rob Hiaasen and Lisa Pollak,SUN STAFF

The day that changed everything did not change Marsha Fullis' wedding date. It did not change her plans for the Elvis impersonator, the London broil, the vows aboard a boat on the Chesapeake, the ivory dress, the rented dance floor.

But three days before her wedding, as Fullis wept her way to work, the White Marsh woman found such details impossible to contemplate. Making personalized covers for Hershey bars had seemed like a thoughtful gesture for friends when the week began. Now she could not even open her folder full of wedding plans and paperwork. How could she celebrate in the wake of tragedy? How could she experience joy when she was feeling such pain?

It made no difference that she knew personally none of the dead or missing. On Tuesday, Fullis wondered aloud to her fiance, Tom Young, if they could go through with their plans for tomorrow's ceremony.

"He said to me, `Marsha, if there's going to be a war, then wouldn't you want to be my wife?' "

On television, sobbing women keep holding up pictures of beaming husbands who went to work and never came home. The plane keeps crashing into the tower, the skyscrapers keep crumbling, the workers keep shaking their heads.

And yet many of us woke up Wednesday morning and went back to work, carried forward on the moving sidewalk of everyday existence. We'd been told life was changed forever - and we believed it - and yet here was life, just like before: the desk, the computer, the calendar, the commute. The yoga class. The tee time. The doctor's appointment. The wedding.

Many of us have struggled, silently and aloud, to make sense of the business of going on. Do we throw the party? Go to yoga class? Schedule the house painter? Take the vacation? If we postpone parties, for how long? Does not going to the gym make us feel any more useful? Any less guilty? How could we complain about an injured knee or the guy who cut us off on York Road or the price of gas?

How could we plan to attend gala fund-raisers? Earlier this week, Maryland Art Place postponed tomorrow's benefit to celebrate its new location. "We certainly felt we couldn't celebrate the opening of a new space at a time when buildings are going down," said Karen Bokram, board president.

At St. John's United Methodist Church in Lutherville, secretary Carole Gray knew Wednesday morning that tomorrow would be too soon for the magician, four Christian music bands, face painting and other features of the church festival she has been planning for months.

"We decided to do a memorial/peace service instead and just postpone our event for a month," Gray said. "Hopefully in a month's time we'll be ready to do something different. Though we do need to get our lives back to normal, it's just not time yet to be celebrating."

Getting back to normal. That, we are told, is the goal now. Or perhaps it is simply an inevitability, a necessity. The wedding has been planned and paid for. The job beckons.

"People are resilient," said Bob Beaumont, head tennis pro at Baltimore Fitness and Tennis who taught class until 7:30 Tuesday night. "They see this, and they're horrified and they're shocked by it. But we're still going to be who we are and what we are. We're not going to stop our way of life. If we do, we've let them win."

But back to normal doesn't feel quite right, either. A woman in Annapolis, Judy Ewald, admonished herself for worrying about the landscaping at her new home. A Baltimore attorney, Mark Swerdlin, canceled a vacation this weekend with his wife in Miami's South Beach. "It doesn't feel right to be lying on the beach while this is going on," he said. Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka brought home work Tuesday night- preparations for Cal Ripken's last game - but didn't feel like doing it.

Imagine if it's your job to be funny. The staff of The Onion, a parody newspaper featuring irreverent headlines, felt nothing but reverence in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. "None of us are feeling funny," said an Onion editor, Stephen Thompson. "I heard a staff member say something chilling, `The age of irony is dead.'" The Onion will not publish next week and is considering postponing its scheduled Sept. 27 launch of its New York street edition, Thompson said.

Jay Leno, David Letterman and Conan O'Brien haven't been taping their late night talk shows. Comedy Central's The Daily Show - featuring host Jon Stewart poking fun at politicians and the news - also pulled out and is broadcasting re-runs possibly through next week, as well. "We are going through the old shows to make sure there aren't any references to terrorism or to the president," said Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox.

It feels strange to be channel surfing at home and stumble on a sitcom. Is it OK to be entertained? How about seeing a movie? This week, the Senator Theatre's marquee looked inadvertently ominous: Apocalypse Now Redux. Opening today at the Senator is Funny Girl.

When will it feel right to feel right again?

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