9/11 and 11/9

Four years ago, on November 9, 2016, my world turned upside down. I woke up to the news that Donald Trump had won the presidency (or at least the electoral college). Hardly anyone in my world had expected this result. I said to my husband in horror, “He won!” — and he bizarrely thought I meant that I was pregnant, that our ten-year-old son had finally triumphed in his wish to have a sibling.

But no, it was not forces of growth and renewal that seemed to be triumphing, but the forces of hatred, greed, selfishness, and intolerance. We all watched as hate crimes increased and walls were reinforced, the “other” was shut out, the shadows grew. Law and reason were powerless against these forces. They grew rampant, like weeds, choking the garden we had thought invulnerable.

It reminded me of another time when my world had crumbled: September 11, 2001. When the Twin Towers fell, I was living close to New York City. I had just visited Manhattan the previous weekend. And the blow struck very near. It hit me in my own heart, as I wrote in this post last New Year’s Day: “What shocked me so deeply was that I realized that the same anger that caused such incredible harm and destruction lived also in me. I was also capable of such rage, such destructiveness.”

I knew at that time that I had to deal with my anger. Holding it in was not the answer. It was crippling me and making me sick. But I did not know how to face it, without unleashing that destructive force.

Destiny stepped in and brought me teachers. What happened to me in the fifteen years between 9/11 and 11/9?

I got married.

I had a child.

I went to work in a community taking care of adults with special needs.

What I had to learn, it seemed, was how to care for the vulnerable. This is the basis of every moral teaching, our universal religion. Give alms to the poor. Care for the widow, the orphan, the foreigner. Do not harm living beings.

As the Dalai Lama teaches us, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

For without them, when we harm vulnerable human beings, we create monsters.

It was not easy for me to learn this. It was not easy to care for others, when I had been damaged in my own core. It was hard to face the way that damage spilled out and hurt the people I was responsible for, and not to turn away and deny everything, blame the other, close my eyes. It was so difficult that at times I thought I could not bear it.

But the voiceless ones, the ones who depended on me to understand them and to speak for them, were calling to me. They were asking for help. They needed me, in order to survive. And for their sake, I said yes.

I let down my walls, my pride. I got help. I opened my own vulnerable self, to another, many others. I admitted that I could not rebuild my shattered world all alone. And slowly, through trials and setbacks, a new world began to rise.

Today, I feel as though the world has turned right side up again. Some wrongness has been righted, and there is great joy and relief.

But there is also great danger and great responsibility. The blows will come again. They will only get stronger. They will batter us to pieces unless we build indestructible walls — not of hatred, but of love. They are calling to us from the dark heart of the damaged, abused, vulnerable ones, saying, “Why did you not protect ME?”

How can we face this? And yet we must.

I think I see a clue in this: 9 and 11 are both prime numbers, only divisible by themselves, and one.

Each of us is a one, indivisible. But we have to also resonate with the many, to let ourselves be divided and free. We can’t close ourselves off in oneness, in the selfish self, nursing former hurts and refusing to be healed, fearing the destruction of our familiar world. For me, that was the lesson of 9/11 and 11/9, of the journey through the mirror and back again.

I wonder where it will take us next?

Jasper Johns, 0-9,1960
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10 thoughts on “9/11 and 11/9

  1. The election results are such a relief. Those of us who have been organizing know there’s more work to do, but we’re taking a week off. As the joke goes electing “Sleepy Joe” means we can sleep again.

  2. It feels like a turning point, doesn’t it. And much as my mind alights on things that suggest we could be stuck in a revolving door I think we may savour this moment — briefly — before sleeves are rolled up to confront not just the immediate problem of the man-baby and his enablers but more existentialist matters. Excellent post, Lory.

    1. “The man-baby and his enablers” IS the existential problem as far as I can see. Only, we must not turn this into only an outer problem. Each of us has to grow up and mature, not in order to become another kind of tyrant in our turn, but to nurture, heal and educate. Anyway, this drama shall play out in manifold ways in the future, as long as we are here to see it. Glad you found the post a worthwhile read.

  3. Lory, your posts are always so eloquent and express much of what I’ve been thinking, but am no good at putting into words. You are so right about learning to care for each other. I am so relieved this week, and we have such a long way to go. (Not to mention two more months to get through, hopefully without anybody starting a war out of sheer temper.)

    1. Yes, we can already see there will be no time when one can say this is finished, or if so it’s a long way off. We must encourage each other in the struggle for a better world, so I’m very glad if this spoke to you.

  4. Such an eloquent piece, and not too long with it (I lack the stamina for great long pieces and have missed some great content, I am sure, as a result). When 9/11 happened I was sent home from work and my friend Matthew was evacuated from Canary Wharf in London’s docklands (amid horrible rumours) and took a while to get home to central London and I worried more than I might have and we talked for three hours on the phone that night, and we’re married now. So.

    1. Thanks Liz, I’ve been mulling over some of these thoughts for a long time and suddenly they wanted to get out in this form. I know what you mean about long pieces! I can’t get through them either, often. So I tend to write posts that feel not too long to me, and I’m glad it worked for you too.

      And thank you for sharing your story, I love it! Come to think of it, it was at that time that I moved into the house where I became friends with my future husband. I wonder how many similar stories there are …

  5. The election of thedonald afflicted myself as well, and for a few months I too – someone who had more or less voted progressively most of my life – sufferened intensely from Trump-Dysphoria-Syndrome – reflecting of course, how could this happen, and how can one live under such a regime? It didn’t take long after that to approach a more realistic world-view. There WERE many reasons a person opposed to the excesses f the Left was elected. He wan’t elected for nothing. A difficult concept for the champions of the Left. Despite a difficult, often obnozious personality, and near-universal oprobrium from the mass media, he accomplished much. The Left doesn’t like the prospect of peace in the Middle East, nor high-employment, scepticism of large enterprises, gratuitous-affirmative-action, and, less-open borders – the USA continues to have the greatest numbers by far of LEGAL immigartion of any country in the world.Thedonald did more for the so-called middle-classes, and the poor, than the Left has done since WWII. These are difficult concepts for the Left.

    1. The last four years brought out much that we need to look at and take seriously. What is called for is deep systemic change, and that takes more than a switch of administrations. Personally, I think it’s unhealthy to look to the person at the top to be a savior of any kind. So, let’s get to work, from the bottom up, or the inside out. Each one can play a part, however small, in changing the world for the better.

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