I did a lot of different things yesterday, with the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 never far from my mind. I thought quite a few times about writing a blog post; I even started the opening paragraph in my mind. But every time I sat down and reached for my laptop, I stopped. I stopped and wondered if they were the right words. Big enough words.
I finally found some as Jeff and I sat on the couch, licking our wounds from another tough weekend and watching coverage on TV: those things that happened fifteen years ago, those momentous events that will haunt all of us for the rest of our lives, there simply aren’t words big enough for what happened. The images we saw on the screen, the memories we had of our own reactions, our memories of the reactions we saw play out on countless hours of live television: there were no words big enough. I remember being aware of that feeling, that sinking incredulousness, on and after 9/11, but not being able to quite pin it down.
It’s almost unnatural. For me as a writer and such a voracious consumer of words, I expect them to always be there at the ready. Words comfort me. Words rebuild me. Words arm me and protect me. Words do not fail me. But they did.
They still do. I felt that same jaw-dropping emptiness last night as I watched the footage. How do you…? Why would…? How do we…? But last night might have been the first time I was able to say that we might not ever be able to pin down the right words. There may not ever be words big enough to capture how overwhelmed and terrified we felt. The events of 9/11 were bigger than that. The idea that such evil could exist. That people could really delight in killing as many civilians as they could. That buildings tall and strong enough to scrape the sky could just fall down. That jumping from those buildings could be the better choice than whatever the alternative was. That veteran newscasters could break down, sobbing, mid-broadcast. That days, weeks, years would keep unfolding and we would still be here. Even that possibility seemed unfathomable at the time. Everything was unfathomable.
I kept letting my hands fall away when I sat down to write. I didn’t have the words. I didn’t want to go looking for them and come up short. I didn’t want to try, but feel I had missed. It was tempting to give in again this morning. Let the words dance out of reach. You can’t fail when you don’t try. It’s no longer the anniversary, so wouldn’t a tribute be too little, too late?
But it will always be the same: the words will never be enough and the wounds will always feel raw and gaping. Whether it’s the day after, the year after, or any number of days in all the years since. Events like this will always feel too much, too big, too everything. Retelling the stories grounds us. Tricks us into thinking we’ve found a way out, a ways to trap everything we felt, to throw a net around everything, even for a fleeting moment.
So I will remember the lives that were lost that day, all the lives that were lost since then because of that day, and try to find peace with the idea that what happened is too big for words. I will remember the good things. That there are people (God bless them) who run into fires every day to help, that we stood united for a moment in time, and reached for each others’ hands when words failed us. We’re still standing, the morning after – years after – the thing that has no words.