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Three Years Later: Moving Forward

I made a vow to myself to remain positive as the third anniversary of 9/11 approached. Three years. In some ways, I've lived a lifetime since then. And sometimes, it feels like just yesterday I was standing in the parking lot at work, my eyes fixed on the ugly, brown haze of smoke and debris that enveloped the sky to the west. There are people who have chastised my obsession with that day; they say I act as if it belongs to me, only. We all own a piece of 9/11, of course. The shape and form of that owned piece is different for everyone. It may look and feel like blame or remorse or a million other things, depending on your view. The view from here is not as dark and murky as it was when I gripped the door handle of my car, practically paralyzed with fear and horror. That was three years ago this Saturday, when I wanted nothing more but to get home to my family yet could do nothing more than stare and cry. A year passed. It was a long, hard year filled with questions, doubts, lingering fear and a subtle sense of panic that layered every move I made, every thought I had. We were shell shocked and our response to the world around us reflected that. I cried at random times. I had trouble sleeping. I paced and panicked and popped pills to stop it all. And between all my angst and anxiety, the sun rose and set, the flowers bloomed, my children played and the world, damaged and shaken as it was, went on. Another year came and went. My kids grew an inch or two, I got married, relatives died, had babies and moved away. Life had a way of making me forget every once in a while. Anniversaries make you remember. Two years ago, September 11, 2002, the view from here was much the same as it was the year before. I clung to my sadness and anger, wrapped those emotions around me like blankets. I wallowed not only in my own dark vision of the day, but in the darkness and despair of others, as well. It was needed, then. The shared experiences, the sympathetic tears, the virtual hand holding - they were needed. How else could we possibly get through the grief but to do it together? Those feelings of darkness lingered long after the anniversary. Fall came and went, quickly fading into winter. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's. Would the new year be any different? Would 2003 look much the same as 2002 and the end months of 2001? Would the fear and anger ever dissipate? Those are the questions I asked myself as we rang in the new year. I wondered how others around me could be so joyous, so wrapped up in their celebrating when all around us, the world was in shambles. And so 2003 marched on, bringing more changes, more births and deaths and sunrises, war was declared, the battle come down. We cooked dinners, shopped, drank, went to amusement parks and lived. We lived. And as September approached, so did my now annual anxiety and sadness. And once again, I asked everyone to wallow with me. The Voices Project was therapeutic in many ways. For myself, for the people who contributed, for the people who read, it was a way to join hands again and share the bleak emotions that still welled up inside our hearts and souls. That is my piece of 9/11, the part I own. A little black lump of nothingness that sits sometimes on top of my heart and sometimes lodges itself in the pit of my stomach. I thought by engaging in a sort of group therapy through the project, I could dislodge that nothingness. But it wasn't reliving my pain and agony of September 11, 2001 that did it for me. No, it was life. And I didn't even realize it at that the time, that the black lump of nothingness was shrinking. I wrote on September 12, 2003:
I watched my son playing hockey with his friends in the driveway last night and my daughter chasing her little cousins around on the lawn and it felt so damn good. The air was cool, the sun was throwing off colors into the early evening sky and the jingle of the ice cream truck could be heard from blocks away. It was just one of those moments that you want to hold onto forever; you want time to stand still so we are always this happy and this joyous and this free. Of course, it doesn't work that way, which is why we have cameras and camcorders and halfway decent memories. There are going to be days when the kids are screaming at each other instead of playing harmoniously together, where the neighbor's dog is taking a crap on your lawn and it's raining so hard your gutters are overflowing and someone is calling you with bad news. No one remembers the exact moments of being ecstatically happy. No one says, oh on July 16, 2002 at 7:08 p.m., I felt a surge of happiness in my heart. But we all remember times and dates and intimate details of our moments of despair. Just as no one takes pictures or movies of their family members sobbing over the coffin of Grandma. Well maybe they do, but I don't.
2003 came to an end and I welcomed 2004 with a small ray of hope that it would bring better things. When I said that out loud to my husband, he asked what I meant by better things. Had the last years been so personally horrible or had I just internalized 9/11 to the point that my entire being was marked by the sights and sounds of that day? I went back and read those paragraphs I wrote in September and I promised myself live 2004 in a different way. No, I would never, ever forget. It's always there, it's an awareness that will never fully end. It's there when I see the cars with their 9/11 bumper stickers, honoring the dead. It's there when I watch the news, it's there on a day like this when the sky is blue and the air is crisp and it's....just like then. It's there, believe it or not, every time the digital clock shows the time 9:11. At all those times, it's like a small, cold hand touches me on the back. I shiver and remember. It's a surge of memories that come out me at once, not one particular picture or sound or memory; it's just a feeling. It's that small, black lump showing itself again. It may have shrunk but it will never, ever disappear. It's September 2004. The third anniversary is in less than a week, which means this is the fourth year in a row I am spending at least one perfect weather day regurgitating every minute feeling of sorrow, despair, anger and disbelief. I was all set to do the Voices Project again. I was ready to share stories, to remember, to ask how you feel three years on. No. That's what I told myself this morning. No. I refuse to start myself down that long, rocky slope of depression again. I refuse to take this perfect, blue-sky day and spend it reliving days of darkness. I can't. Tomorrow, my son starts his middle school career. My daughter starts high school. Time has a way of smacking you in the face when you need it most. I can't once again entrench myself in some virtual dark, dank basement where I'm huddled over the keyboard, weeping. I have moved on. There, I said it. Not moved on in the sense that I've forgotten or I don't think it's important. 9/11 will always be a defining moment in my life. It has shaped and colored my world like no other event. It has essentially changed who I am and who I'll always be. But all my writing and gathering of stories and wallowing will not bring Pete Ganci back. It will not bring back any of my father's friends, or any of your friends or relatives. It will only make my hurt feel fresh and it is not healthy to walk around with open wounds. Oh, I still have the anger and pain but, instead of trying to will them out of me by throwing myself into a mental re-enactment of that day, I've decided to let them be. I've learned to live with the little, black lump of nothingness and now I have learned how to not make that bigger than it should be. Nor smaller. It's the piece of 9/11 I own and I'd no sooner give that up than give up a limb. Why? Because I've learned so much from carrying that around with me. I've learned a lot about myself and the people around me. I've learned much about the world. In a way, that black lump soaks up any new despair like a sponge. It's a place where I store things and I'm able to call up that anger or sadness when I need to. But I don't need to now. What I need to do is enjoy the life I am grateful to have. I need to breathe the sweet, fall-like air and think not of death but of living. I have mums to plant, a new house to renovate, children who are growing up too fast for me to not enjoy every moment I have with them. I am moving forward, I guess, not really moving on. I'm leaving behind the Voices Project and leaving behind my annual conscious decision to wallow. I am not leaving behind my despair and anger because to do that would be to forget, which I will never do. I just want to live again, in a way where I won't react viscerally to every mention of 9/11. I think the only way to do that is to approach this anniversary in a completely different way than I have in the past. I approach it with hope and optimism and an eye towards the future. I think it's in my best interest to honor the dead by living. I can think of no other way to explain it and it might sound contradictory to you. I've wanted revenge on the terrorists for so long. Someone once said the best revenge is living well. So, perhaps, not cowering in fear or lashing out in anger as a result of 9/11 is the best revenge I can hope for right now. And before you say I'm contradicting everything I stood for in the past three years, this "moving on" I'm talking about has nothing to do with forgetting who our enemies are and what they have done to us. It's moving on from a striclty emotional standpoint because one can only live inside an emotional train wreck for so long. I think, above all, reacting to this anniversary with reverence rather than rhetoric, with hope rather than hate, with dared optimism rather than depression, is the best we can do for those who died. This is the first and last thing I will write about the third anniversary of 9/11. I will attend a sunrise memorial on the beach this Saturday and I will whisper thanks to the heros and feel sorrow for all who died. And as the sun rises, I will greet the new day as another one in which to appreciate that I still can have absolute moments of happiness while still holding onto my piece of 9/11.
Note: Does this mean I'm blogging again? Not necessarily. I think I just owed you, and myself, an explanation of things.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Three Years Later: Moving Forward:

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Comments

You don't owe us anything. But if you continue writing...we'll be here. Why? Because you can write in a way that I can read. Ya know?

I think you've made a very healthy decision.

this post was beautiful.

Michele,

I'm glad you shared this with us. Not only are you taking a good path, but you're showing us a way, too.

We've read you these years not because your feelings, your struggles, were unique, but because you reflect our own struggles and pain with sincerity and with clarity and with depth.

Three years is a long time, and no time at all. Having read what feels like the coda to A Small Victory, now, I think three years is just about the right amount of time to heal enough that we may now face forward, and stop looking back.

I, too, will never forget. At first, I worried that maybe I would if I wasn't vigilant. Now you've shown me that that perfect, terrible morning in September isn't something I can pick up or put down; it's just there, a part of me, and always will be.

Enjoy your life, Michele. And thanks for all the free ice cream.

Michele,

We always thank you for your thoughts and we want you to do what you think is most Import. I think family is the most important think in anyones life, On the selfish side your online family miss your thoughts and hope that you will come back to us, but only when you are ready; until then we will see you at the Command Post.

with warm regards

MarcB

Thank you for living out loud your very human emotions; those that many of us have felt inside but were unable to articulate.

Warm wishes,

Thank you for sharing this with us.

good for you. And it was good to read you again, even if it was just for one day.

"Perhaps I am still very much of an American. That is to say, naïve, optimistic, gullible.... In the eyes of a European, what am I but an American to the core, an American who exposes his Americanism like a sore. Like it or not, I am a product of this land of plenty, a believer in superabundance, a believer in miracles.".
-Henry Miller
“Paradise Lost,” pt. 3, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch (1957)
.

Optimism is an American birthright, Michele.
Relish it. Everyday.

I missed having something glorious to read on this hear page. Thank you for returning.

Good for you, Michele.

One of the things that always made me ball my fists in anger was the commenters here who'd thoughtlessly snap at you to "move on," "get over it," etc.--not because I disagreed that one should move forward (I also prefer that term to "move on"), but because no human being on earth can dictate to another when that time to move forward should come. It comes when it comes, and not one moment before.

I'm happy it's come for you.

Michele,

I'm just happy to see that you're OK. I am happy to read your writing, even if it's just once more, because you write so well.

Thank you.

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal ...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance ...
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.
ecclesiastes 3:1-8

May your coming days be filled with brighter thoughts.

htom

I wish I could join you, my friend. I am both envious and overjoyed by your post.

Thank you for sharing all of this with all of us. It means so much to me, and I'm sure many others, that you're willing to expose so much. I know that what you've written and what you've organized has helped me, and I appreciate it and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Wonderful post. When my father died, I felt a dispair I had never felt. But that day I vowed to live each day to the fullest, to smell every flower, live every dream, chase every rainbow, in honor of his life. I fall short alot but I know Im trying and I cherish more than I had before. For all you have brought to others, I hope your days find giggles and grins and are filled with hugs.

Michele:

That was a beautiful post as always.......

I thoroughly enjoy your blog and have been reading it (without commenting) for about two years. I hope you can find the time to occasionally share yor thoughts with your readers. You have a uncanny way of expressing universal feelings and capturing moments that need to be remembered.

For some reason, high school is over in a blink of an eye. Enjoy your time with your kids. It's such a short period of time that our children belong to us before they spread their wings and fly off to live their own lives...

Thank you for your interesting and provocative take on life experiences.

Warm regards,

Lauren

...this is why we keep coming back!

Thanks.

=darwin

darling
i am so glad i decided to read your site today
something pulled me to you and now i know why
you know
i announced on sept 12th 2003 after really emmersing myself in a sad and very depressing evening
at a ground zero reunions
party
in which i felt like i was in a group of vietnam vets
that i was ready to move on
and i have with very little exception
done so
but in provincetown on vacation
i walked into a photo exhibition of
911
and it all came crashing back
and in nyc
with the helicopters
and the sirens
the the riot cops
and the screaming
and the protestors being dragged off to jail
it came back so full scale
that i wondered for a moment
what year i was in
but i wallowed too much
in "911"
and my friends and lover
wanted to send me for help
and i too
took a lot of shit
by people who felt that just because i saw them fell
just because i worked in ground zero in sept 2001
helping the recovery
was no reason for me to
have so much personal grief
honey
i have this to say
nothing like this has ever happened before
we are all part of one giant petri dish
we all have our own 911
for you
and for me
its been intense
for the family and victims
its more than we can even imagine
for some
its just a momentary
bleep
for others
its a long stay in a mental hospital
who knows
it is to all of us
what it is too all of us
for me
its time to move on
to celebrate the new
and to never
ever forget
but to learn
and to dream
and to hope
and to wish
for something better
for all of us

if you ever need to talk
you know im here
and if you never want to talk about this again
i support you 100%

rock on
sister

Only you can describe the way I also feel. My life changed that day. I have lived in fear since that day, for my son who is in the military. He was in for only a year, when that horrible day happened. His fourth military anniversary is in September. He has 2 more years too serve. Yes, I am counting the days.
I am so glad to see you back at, A Small Victory.

God Bless you in your forward progress.

And, everyone, pray for the Russians who lost so much last week.

Still have you on "My Favorites" and will for some time going forward if, only once in a while, I get to read posts like this.

Well done and take care.

rossi, sweetie - you're sharp and you're fun, but I wish you would get over your pseudo poet writing style.

Beautiful and thank you.

M-

You rock.

Love,
DF

Gracias, Michele.

Spoken with the wisdom and heart we've come to expect, Michele.

I just wanted to let you know I'm thinking of you. You will be in my thoughts and prayers this weekend; I think you made a wise decision.

I'll be playing poker on 9/11.

If I draw a nine and an eleven, I'll be sure to raise a toast to Giuliani.

Michele,

Brilliant writing (as always).

I thought I was a real loser for checking here every couple of days, just in case you were gonna post something. Obviously I wasn't alone.

Michele, there are leaders and managers in this world. Leaders have vision managers will never have.

Thank you, for once again proving to all of us that, you are a leader!

Enjoy the sunrise, we'll be there with you.

I felt a great joy today when I checked the site and the "rock-em, sock-em" logo loaded.

I wish I could write as well as you, michele.

Please blog when you feel like it. We'll read it!

Welcome back (if you're back), and I would only take exception to one thing, something you wrote a year ago:

No one remembers the exact moments of being ecstatically happy.

We don't? I do. Not every single one, of course, but I do remember those life-changing, nothing-is-the-same moments of happiness, the emotional inverse of 9/11.

I remember 3pm on October 4, 1997 when I watched my bride-to-be walk down the aisle of green grass under a hot, autumn sun in Alabama. I remember asking my best man if I was doing the right thing, and I remember his warm reassurances. I remember the tears welling up in my eyes when I pledged my love to my wife.

I remember 10:44am on May 2, 2003 when I watched my daughter enter the world. I remember the intense feeling of overwhelming joy and the immediate drive to protect this little one from the world around her. I remember not wanting her out of my sight and I remember watching her as she slept that first day, and the following days, and knowing I was a man changed for the better. I had never felt such love and happiness before.

So, I would argue, we do remember the moments that counterbalance the horrors of events like 9/11, sometimes we just forget to do it. And the amazing thing for me is that events like 9/11 can't take away the joy I felt on those great events of my life, but the great events can lessen the pain of days like 9/11.

OK, I'm babbling now. Signing off.

It doesn't mean we forget. It just means that time heals some of the pain.

Yeah. Live. That's what's important.

My anger will never subside. But it's fueled by a simple resoluteness.

It's good to hear from you again, Michele, even if it's just a post to let us know what you're thinking every now and then. ASV is in my Favorites folder and I'll be checking in periodically. I'm also a regular reader of Command Post and I read your stuff over there. Wishing you and your family all the best in the years to come.

I'm a Texan and President Bush has always seemed eloquent to me. I believe you have come to a place in your heart that he wished for all of us.

Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People September 20, 2001

Americans are asking: What is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.

I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.

[...]

I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today.

And, finally, please continue praying for the victims of terror and their families, for those in uniform, and for our great country. Prayer has comforted us in sorrow, and will help strengthen us for the journey ahead.

[...]

After all that has just passed -- all the lives taken, and all the possibilities and hopes that died with them -- it is natural to wonder if America's future is one of fear. Some speak of an age of terror. I know there are struggles ahead, and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them. As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.

Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom -- the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time -- now depends on us. Our nation -- this generation -- will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.

It is my hope that in the months and years ahead, life will return almost to normal. We'll go back to our lives and routines, and that is good. Even grief recedes with time and grace. But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day, and to whom it happened. We'll remember the moment the news came -- where we were and what we were doing. Some will remember an image of a fire, or a story of rescue. Some will carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever.

[...]

The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.

Fellow citizens, we'll meet violence with patient justice -- assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America.

Hi Michele,

Unfortunately, I did not learn of your existence until relatively recently.

You have become to me sort of an American Oriana Fallaci, and a goddess (patron saint?) of 9-11 remembrance. (All of the preceding allusions are meant with a sincere affection.) I feel kinship with your passion and pain, as though in a way you’ve been speaking for me, albeit far more eloquently than I could speak for myself.

Your vigil of personal grief and sorrow and rage has been a great service to all who have come to know you, to all who have hearts to feel and heads screwed on at least marginally straight enough to realize how things forever changed on 9-11.

Yes, I feel regret that your moving on forward includes a cessation of your passionately expressed mourning of 9-11 that still speaks powerfully to me. I understand that you must move on forward for your own well-being, and so I could never begrudge you that.

I've never met you, though through your passionate, personal, evocative posts I feel I know you more than many I have met, and therefore care about you more than many I have known. I wish you well, and wish you much happiness, regardless of what the future holds in this very uncertain world.

I do hope you come back (in whatever capacity you choose to) to "A Small Victory," but you have to take care of yourself, whether that means coming back or not. If you don't take care of yourself, who will?

And to all those who for whatever reason "chastised [your] obsession [with 9-11]," for all I care they can break their teeth on my shiny metal ass.

Sincerely,
Clark Smith

Watching the names of the victims at the WTC I had a WTF moment. Did you know one of the victims was named Ted Rall?

Brutal irony. I hope he's haunting Teddy - making his miserable existence even worse.

Funny, scoping the blogosphre by both conservatives and liberals via Technorati and Blogdex, the majority of Republicans are still holding onto their fear while the liberals are moving past their fear looking toward solutions other than the quagmire that is Bush's knee-jerk folly in Iraq.

I think Republicans are in love with 9-11 if you ask me. It's their new Bill and Hillary Clinton.