Thoughts on 9/11

I wrote the piece below at the ten year anniversary of 9/11. Time flies by and although it hardly seems possible, here we are hurtling towards the 20 year mark. It still seems like yesterday. Most of us can remember where we were and who we were with when those planes flew into the twin towers. It is without a doubt the defining event of my lifetime.

The anniversary of 9/11 has become a time of the year where I need to take extra care of my mental health, as it is also the anniversary of my first really serious episode of mental illness. When the planes hit, I was already hanging on by a thread. As the footage of the planes was shown over and over and over again, the image became a backdrop to my crumbling psyche and eventually I descended into a life threatening depression before bouncing around like a superball in all manner of chaotic and confusing directions. All the while, the planes crashed and crashed and crashed on the news, and in my head.

I emerged from hospital several weeks later, in an extraordinarily fragile state both physically and mentally and I remember the psychiatrist's parting words, ‘Turn the TV off. Create another reality for yourself.’ It’s now something I do regularly, and 17 years down the track it's even more critical with the social media juggernaut threatening to take up ever more more space in our already cluttered psyches.

I have learned some valuable things since 9/11 and this is a time year when I actively ‘create another reality for myself’. As Barbara Kingsolver says in 'Small Wonder' her wonderful book of essays written in part as a response to 9/11, we are easily convinced (even if only subconsciously) that ‘the ‘news’ is a random sampling of everything that happened on planet earth that day and therefore represents reality’.

I need regular reminding that this is just one version of reality, and that there is much bigger and broader picture. A picture that this week includes; the first spring swooping of the magpies and my daughter’s netball final in the rain. The world seems a much more complex place since 9/11, but the anniversary each year has become for me an opportunity to do a bit of a reality check and remember that reality is all manner of things.

9/11 ten years on – have we learned anything?

“Mummy the TV’s broken!”

I’m not too proud to admit that as a single Mum, I’ve occasionally resorted to an over reliance on the TV. It's ten years ago and I’m lying in bed with a ‘proper’ dose of flu – fever, a splitting head and a cough that sounds like I have TB. My canny eight year old has seized her opportunity against a significantly weakened opponent to stay home with a very 'non-specific' kind of ailment.

“What’s wrong?” I croak from under the doona “There’s planes flying into a building over and over and over and a fire and it’s on every channel”

I could hear the fear in her voice and dragged myself out of bed to a changed world. It was a shocking day and we all remember it well. I was genuinely frightened at what the future might hold. Later that day as I attempted distraction watching a kids movies with my distressed daughter, even our favourite ‘Harriet the Spy’, set on the Upper East Side of NY, seemed somehow tainted.

It’s almost ten years on, and a messy war in Iraq has morphed into a messy war in Afghanistan. Mostly it doesn’t touch us until there is another tragic loss of Australian life. The tragic loss of life on the ‘other side’ goes largely unreported. The fear and uncertainty has largely subsided; we all fly again without too much concern. We’ve gotten used to the awkwardness of having to remove half our clothing in public to get through airport security post 9/11. But I wonder have we actually learned very much from the events of that tragic day?

I tried to read David Hick’s biography earlier this year but stopped at the half way point. It was just too harrowing. The night I woke up in a cold sweat from a dream that involved me being tortured Harry Potter (curiously the only book available to Guantanamo Bay prisoners) I decided I’d had enough. I read enough to doubt that David Hicks was ever a major terrorist threat and that his biggest crime was probably naivety and idealistic stupidity. But the more important question to my mind is this: in the hyper-reactionary environment post 9/11 did he get a fair hearing?

We’ve looked for scapegoats like Hicks, demonised refugees (and I would argue based largely on their race and religion) and tried to ban the Burqa, but rarely do we hear considered debate about the underlying issues that feed terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

We live in a world where 20%of the population consume 80% of the world’s resources. Put another way; over 50% of the world’s population live on under $2 a day. With the second highest infant mortality rate in the world, I really don’t know what sort of choices I would make if I lived in Afghanistan.

Ten years on I think we’re a less tolerant and inclusive society and the gap between the haves and the have nots widens daily. I know there’s no easy answer to the causes of inequality and poverty, but maybe the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 is an opportunity for us to reflect on the bigger picture rather than to keep demonising the easy targets.

Originally published in the Port Lincoln Times 9/11/2011

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