On the 11th of September, 2001, with thousands of other New Yorkers, I walked toward home along the Williamsburg Bridge. Amid the fear and confusion, the attempt to reconcile what was, as of that morning, the unimaginable, we marched; desperate for news, for answers, for information. Less than 2 miles away, plumes of what was left of the twin sisters of the skyline rose into the air. Yesterday, thousands of miles away from New York, from the United States, I once again waited for information, for news, for answers. More plumes of smoke, more photographs of agonized faces. This time in Boston.
I grew up 45 minutes from Boston. I went on field trips to the aquarium there as a kid, to the science museum, to Quincy Market. I sat on the steps of Copley Plaza, a block away from the first blast, as a punk rock teenager, feeling grown up in the big city. I lived in the city as a young adult, in a basement apartment with 3 other girls and an army of giant cockroaches. Despite 20 years in New York, I’d still choose the Red Sox, The Patriots, the Bruins. It’s familiar. It’s home field.
That’s twice now.
I feel like this desperate search for information, for answers, for comfort, is becoming more and more frequent. In December, 2012, choking back sobs, I watched online as another unimaginable horror unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut; a suburb of New York, a place where city dwellers move to for greener pastures, for safety, for better schools. A place that myself or any of my Brooklyn friends could have ended up. In August 2012, it was a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. In July, 2012, it was mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.
I’m an American. And though I wouldn’t categorize myself as particularly patriotic, as a flag waving, spar-spangled citizen, I am a proud American. I am not, however, delusional. There is plenty right with the United States, but there is also plenty that needs to be fixed. It is a country divided, though I remain unconvinced that the division is as insurmountable as portrayed in the media. Yes, there are gaps, huge ones, but in the end, I’ve yet to meet anyone, regardless of whether the state they live in or the blood they bleed is red, blue, purple or pink that thinks a 7-year-old at school or a 6-year-old watching a movie or an 8-year-old watching his father run a marathon should have to worry about leaving alive.
In the days following September 11, my city came together in a way which I had never experienced. Though there was a sense of sadness that pervaded the city like the fog of soot and smoke that took days to clear, there was, even more distinguishable, a sense of togetherness and purpose, resilience and strength.
That made me proud to be an American.
In Cyprus I met a Somali woman whose family had fled persecution in that country to resettle all over the world. Her father, a journalist, had eventually ended up in Arizona. For her father, she said, imprisoned in Somalia for his writing, living in a country in which he was afforded the rights of free speech and free press was worth more than any difficulties he may face assimilating.
That made me proud to be an American.
The stories out of Boston of marathon runners who continued running past the finish line, on toward local hospitals to give blood; those stories make me proud to be an American.
But though I am proud, I am faced with the fact that I am unsure if I want to subject my children to life where I don’t know what is around the corner. I am lucky. I live in an incredibly safe city in an incredibly safe country. And while horrible things happen to good people all over the world, it seems to be happening with more and more frequency in the United States. It is difficult enough explaining these horrific acts to my children. The idea of putting them on the front line is terrifying. I have lived outside of the United States for almost 5 years now. And yet, it is my home. It is my country. While you won’t find me chanting U.S.A., it is part and parcel of my identity. I want to cling to the good, to forget the bad, to bury the ugly. But the bad and the ugly are fighting back. What if they win the tug of war? Whose child or parent or spouse has to pay the price? Will it be mine? Will it be a best friend’s? A colleague’s, an acquaintance’s, a stranger’s?
So after almost 5 years and countless tragedies, I am not sure if I want to move back to a country where don’t feel safe sending my child to college in Virginia. Or to a movie in Colorado, school in Connecticut, to cheer on a parent in Massachusetts.
When we walked home that day, 12 and half years ago, bedraggled and confused, exhausted and scared, it felt like the beginning of the end of the world. But we moved forward. My city moved forward. My country moved forward. As Boston will, as the US will, as it does time and time again. But I am growing weary. Weary of the worry, of looking over my shoulder, or more accurately, being reminded that when I let my guard down and stop looking over my shoulder is when I need to be most cautious.
The events in Boston yesterday were heartbreaking. As were the events in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado. Oak Creek, Wisconsin and Tucson, Arizona. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma City. Seattle, Washington; Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oakland, California, Chardon Ohio, Seal Beach, California, Carson city, Nevada. Manchester, Connecticut, Fort Hood, Carthage, North Carolina. Binghamton, New York. Kirkwood, Missouri, Omaha, Nebraska, Brookfield, Wisconsin, Wakefield, MA.
New York, New York.
My heart hurts for them all. For us all.