It is a day too late for a 9/11 post, but Becks’ thoughts about the public nature of a private grief have been crawling around in my head. People construct walls, placing people into categories: those who “get it”, and those who don’t.

This is understandable. The bell tolls for all of us, but for the griever all that remains of her loved one are the decaying tones. If everyone can hear the bell, then what of the griever’s pain is hers? What is left of the loss to honor, if people three thousand miles away can weep?

One of the most heartrending stories written in the aftermath, from my perspective, concerned those who had lost fiances in the attack. Yards of silk wedding gowns hanging in the closet. It was such a beautiful September. So many weddings planned. And the fiances were caught in an awful position: having lost a loved one, in pain, but lacking the societally sanctioned bonds that would give them a path out of grief, a role to play that others could recognize.

What broke my heart in particular was the interview with a mother concerning the woman who could have been, in a different future, her daughter-in-law. So much pain.

I’ve lost my son.

She’s young. She’s beautiful. She will find someone else. I cannot replace him.

(She can’t be hearing the bell. It’s all I have left.)

One of the crueler ironies, or maybe one of the hidden blessings, is that part of healing involves learning to allow other to share the burden, letting them sympathize, allowing that sharing the sorrow doesn’t diminish the worth of the dead.

Becks writes,

The lines might not make sense to someone from the outside, or even fully to the person doing the categorizing, but they’re drawn out of self-preservation.

in the case of a public tragedy like 9/11, there’s an additional wrinkle. Awkward sympathy offered by those who cannot understand (how could they. my bell.) the pain of personal tragedy is common; all those who, seeking to help the person through their pain, compound it by well-intentioned but awkward analogies to their own life.

But in those cases, the person’s intention is good, even if they’ve just compared your cancer to their stomachache or your dead child to their puppy or your infertility to their cousin who had that problem and just stopped trying and then they had a baby. They want to lift you up out of your pain. They’re botching it, but they’re sincere.

Seven years after 9/11, the cry out of some quarters, is not ‘let us help you heal’ but ‘never forget. never forgive.’ The pain is shared not to let the decaying tones fade into silence, but to clang the bell all over again.

People who never visited New York or DC, who knew no one who died*, for whom the entire day might as well have been the latest Batman movie for all its personal impact, now have made that day a reason to fight. In an election season where once again, we’re hearing how New Yorkers aren’t real Americans because, well, no one’s really sure, but it probably has something to do with arugula, memorializing 9/11 has not become a day to share the grief of those personally afflicted by loss, but to ensure that those who lost loved ones can’t move on.


*This includes me. I know no one who died. I know no one personally who knew someone who died. This accurately describes, I would guess, 99% of the country. This should not be our day.