Reflections on 9/11

by Roberta Werdinger, Ukiah Daily Journal, Sept 11, 2011

UKIAH, CA (USA) -- In September of 2001, I was living at Green Gulch Farm, a Zen Buddhist center in Marin County. I was in the accounting office preparing for my day when my fellow monk, Lee, opened the door, one of the few residents who possessed a TV. "New York has just been attacked," he said. "A plane flew right into the World Trade Center, and it came down.

I swear, when I saw that plane fly into the building, I just burst into tears." It was a sentiment that was exactly echoed by my sister, a United Airlines executive at their Chicago-area headquarters at the time. She hadn't worked for the airline that long, and she would be laid off soon after, but the moment she saw the plane with her company's logo plow into the skyscraper, she too wept.

It is sadness that consumed us in the very early stages of coming to terms with 9-11, and it is to sadness that I want to return. Why, you ask, return there? Its pain can be almost unbearable. I want to have the strength to do so, though, and I want and need a lot of help. My other choices are not bearable, either. For when I move out of my sadness before I have surrendered to it, I have no choice but to find someone else to bear my pain.

That "someone else" could be a bearded Islamic terrorist who I have conjured in my head, waving a Koran and a suicide belt. It could be the government of the United States or anyone who supported it, who many turned around and blamed in turn for the events of 9-11, foisting the fundamentalist attackers into the unlikely category of freedom fighters.

It could be a brown-skinned foreigner who is now regarded with dread and suspicion. It could also be a faceless man or woman in a suit of any race, on whom I project the greed and cravenness I cannot come to terms with in myself. When sadness is not thoroughly tasted and digested, it taints all our experience. It drives apart people who could, under the right circumstances, be allies. It sends us into our heads, where we endlessly analyze our situation.

I have read that parents who have undergone the death of their child are more likely to divorce, driven apart by terrible pain and unable to come to terms with its untimely nature. Sometimes I think the same thing is happening to the country as a whole these last 10 years. More and more, I see a polarized land, full of people willing to point fingers at and demonize each other. Politicians are more than happy to instigate this or follow suit, resulting in a deadlocked Congress and a massive and pervasive malaise, while enormous social and environmental problems go unsolved.

There is much work to be done, and no need for us to assume we will be working on the same side. A healthy democracy means a mix of vigorous and dissenting voices. I do not mean to substitute therapy for action, but I do remember profoundly the sadness and vulnerability I felt on those days right after the attack, the sympathy we all felt for the victims, and the pride and admiration at the response of firefighters and others who rushed into a burning, collapsing building, some giving their own lives. Before the mass movement toward revenge, we were one river of sadness. On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, remembering the love and pride that came rushing out and wanting to know what to do next, I wish to dip in that river again.

Roberta Werdinger is a Willits resident.