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When the Nation Won't Cry


I’ve been trying to write all day, and not managing anything.  So I went shopping to my local grocery store, in a mini-mall with a jewelry store, a liquor store, that kind of thing – and I found myself looking at it and tearing up as though I were looking at an album of ancient and treasured photographs or thinking of the good old days.

I should add, perhaps, that this little mini-mall stays festooned with American flags and red, white, and blue ribbons until the time comes for holiday decorations.

It’s an overcast day with a sense of impending thunder.  There’s a sickly sweet golden light on the landscape that made this suburban neighborhood look as though dipped in sepia.

But none of that justifies my sense of looking at a lost world, of wanting to get back there again.

Nor does it explain what I now realize has been a sense of spinning, passive depression making it hard for me to write in the last week.

I’m not naturally pessimistic about the future of America. If I were, I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have signed on to become an American.

Even now, I don’t feel we’re down for the count, or circling the drain, or in decline. But I feel we have really bad leadership and we might be in for tough times ahead.

Still, it is not like me to be this teary eyed, this pre-nostalgic for everyday living.

And then I realized what the problem is.  When we are writing, we have a saying about high-emotion scenes: if your character doesn’t cry when horrible things happen, then the reader has to.

I think this is what I’m going through just now, as 9/11 is upon us.

The first 9/11/2001 was bad enough.

First came the fear.  My husband wasn’t home, and I feared he wouldn’t make it home safely.  Remember how we were all afraid that there were more and bigger attacks to follow?

Then came grief, as there were no survivors, as the notes of people looking for the missing went unanswered, as the stories of the people on the planes trickled out.

Then came anger -- seething anger, as it seemed to me we went cap-in-hand to the UN and got treated as though we had it coming.

But all through it, at least, even when I wanted to put something through the screen when our president made what seemed to me inadequate noises about our enemy, the nation was grieving.  They were right there, along with me, knowing what we’d lost.

Then came the disappearance of the pictures of 9/11 from all public venues, for fear they would make us angry.  I don’t understand this, and it feels like a wound I can’t heal.  We should be angry.  We should also remember those we lost, and how innocent they were, how undeserving of the hell visited upon them.

Then came 9/11/11, and our president saying we should be “over” it and asking why should we keep celebrating it. I remembered a sign on the hills of Pennsylvania when I visited as an exchange student in the early eighties, bearing the date of Pearl Harbor and Never Forget.

When is it too much to remember an injury that killed three thousand citizens?  Shouldn’t we wait at least until the same enemy no longer threatens us?

And then came 9/11/2012, the attack on our embassy in Benghazi, the death in the dark of four brave men, the lies of the administration about it.

In a way it was worse than 9/11/2001.  Fewer people died, but our own country seemed to side with the enemy to minimize their deaths, to forget them, to pretend we’d never been hit.  To pretend it was nothing.

It reminded me of when I was in Portugal and Operation Eagle Claw – Jimmy Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages in the Iranian embassy – failed and the brave men who attempted it died.  Somehow, even then feeling like a dislocated American I felt the grief and the horror, and couldn’t bear it that all around me were people laughing at the “Americans being taught a lesson.”