September 29, 2011 by Crystal Tennille Irby
I was tucked away from technology on a retreat in a cabin nestled in the California mountains. While waiting on the bus to return us to “the world”, wondering what new country lay before us we pinned our untrained storytelling ears to the radio. As a child of the MTV generation, it was tough to picture the World Trade Center crumbling into the streets of New York. It was difficult to fathom a plane stuck in the roof of the Pentagon. I have never seen the footage and for that I am grateful. Those images are best left to my imagination. It’s been 10 years since 9/11; 9 years since the U.S. invaded Iraq, found no weapons of mass destruction; and 5 years since President Bush declared “he didn’t know, didn’t care, and didn’t think about Osama bin Laden or where he was” while thousands, under his orders, shed their blood looking for him. For 10 years it feels as though the country has been holding its breath waiting to exhale unsure of how to heal an uncovered fear, a deep, deadly wound festering in the soul of his nation
I was tucked away from technology nestled next to my husband, declaring Sundays a day of peace and praise in my house. Suddenly my peace and praise were taking hostage and I felt myself folding in when I witnessed cheering crowds gathering outside the Whitehouse as our President announced the death of Osama bin Laden. I thought maybe if I was a New Yorker; maybe if I knew someone who died in the tragedy on 9/11; maybe if I’d seen the footage or I knew a firefighter, I’d understand the cheers. But no…I don’t dance at death. It’s just not in my DNA. I was not rejoiceful or remorseful. I did not feel free or healed..closure, maybe, only to wonder what will now be opened. I was reflective and prayful. .. I pray this country can now forge an identity of peace. I hope we can follow our President’s lead. He didn’t fly in on a fighter jet and step out in uniform to declare the death of OBL. He did not celebrate because the death of Osama bin Laden and the cheers that followed are a sobering commentary on the world we now live in, the world my children will grow up in.
I understand that America has a history of perpetuating violence, oppression throughout the world. As a Black woman born and raised in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the union and where the confederate flag still stands beside the state capital, I get it. But that is not a justification for the murder of 3000 people just going to work, on a business trip who don’t knowingly contribute to that ideology on a daily basis. In an ideal world Osama bin Laden would have been captured alive, brought to justice publicly but we don’t live in that world. Not showing the dead pictures of Osama bin Laden was a step in the right direction. Bringing our troops home is a step in the right direction. Honestly I won’t lose sleep over his death. I will lose sleep over the collateral damage: bin Laden’s 12 year old daughter witnessing her father’s violent death, the innocent people killed in retaliation, the void in families of the victims of 9/11, and those who danced at his death and how they will never know why that’ not okay.
I am writing this today because again I am tucked away, this time in a quaint house with a beautiful porch surrounded by an acre of land. I am writing this today because on a day like this, a regular sunny September day, 10 years ago this country changed; because I’m not cliché and don’t wait for commemoration moments to share my story; because I will probably never write a poem about it because Suheir Hammad wrote First Writing Since; because we Americans suffer from long term memory; because we Americans have always been dragged kicking, screaming, and dying into progress; because somehow soon I will have to convince my 14 year old daughter to face her fear and board a plane to New York City so she can grow; because I have to do it without promising what she witnessed at four years old won’t happen again. I have to do it while convincing her she can’t forget 9/11 just as she can forget any American tragedy, genocide, slavery. I write this today because today I begin the conversation with my daughter of how we use history, tragic or triumphant, to forge a better path for the sake of ourselves, our families, community, and prayfully the world.