builtofsorrow: (moonstruck | all to set alight)
I will always think of September 11, 2001 as the Kennedy Assassination of my adolescence. It’s not because of any parallels between the actual events that could possibly be drawn; it’s rather because like the members of my parents’ generation who have told me their memories of Kennedy’s death, September 11 is the day whose story I will preface with, ‘I remember where I was…’, when I tell my hypothetical future children about it, when I weave my history into America’s, into the world’s. My mother was five years and four months old when Kennedy was shot, and she doesn’t remember, but my father is seven years her senior, and I remember him telling me of it, of how he was sitting in school and how he felt hearing the news, and I never understood how that moment, that day could exist so crystallized in his memory until I was fifteen years old, sitting cross-legged on my mother’s bedroom floor with my back against our old blue sectional sofa, fingers slack around the remote and my whole body still with shock and horror and devastation and denial as I watched the second tower fall. And I remember thinking then, in the midst of all of it, that I would grow to tell my children, or someone’s children, of the day I woke up and wandered downstairs to collect the newspaper and make myself a cup of tea, as I always did; of how my mother was on her treadmill, as always, but instead of our traditional acknowledgment of each other, she turned her face toward me and edged one ear of her headphones forward off her ear and said, ‘Go back upstairs and turn on the television; the radio says a plane’s crashed into the World Trade Center’; and I, in wonderment that my mother was actually telling me to watch tv and accompanied by naive thoughts of Orson Welles, went back upstairs and watched.

It’s nine years later, and the Pentagon is whole again, and there’s a gorgeous memorial, quiet and powerful, pointing to the section once ruined. There’s a memorial being built in a field in Pennsylvania. And in New York City, there’s a scar in the skyline and a pit in the pavement that’s slowly being filled in, and there’s a museum that has gathered together not only pieces from that day but also what came after: the cards and the gifts and the photos and the messages of the countries of the world, so many of whom were also affected that day: countries who lost citizens, and citizens of those countries who lost mothers and fathers and daughters and sons (and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and and). And for those of us who have the luxury not to think about it every day, there’s this day every year when we wonder at and ponder the scars again, when we summon up the memories and wake the ghosts and try again to make sense of that day.

I was so much younger then. There was so much I didn’t know of the world, so much I didn’t understand about humanity. And it’s not that I know or understand so very much more now, but I think more often, now, of what I will tell those hypothetical someones about this day in ten more years. Nine, eight, seven years ago, I would have called this day an attack on America, and it was, in a more than literal sense, but as time goes on I become more and more aware that the fact is that the nearly 3,000 people who died on that day were simply that: people. They were human beings, and my outrage now, my devastation, isn’t based on any sort of national pride or loyalty. It’s based on what I have seen in the eyes of friends and colleagues when they speak of who or what they lost that day, based on the words people I know won’t say and the places they won’t go, based on my uncle crying when we watch a documentary about the Pentagon victims, some of whom were his friends, and me pretending like I’m crying for them and not for him. It’s based on the fact that on every September 11, my social network feeds are filled with the memories about those lost by people from all over the world. It’s based on the love I have and the pain I feel for every single person hurt that day, struck that day, personally and permanently scarred by that day: people who might be Americans but aren’t necessarily, people of every race, colour, creed, religion, gender, sex, and every adjective in every language of the world.

And when I speak of this day to my children, when I weave my own history into the world’s like I have a right to do it, I will speak to them of the flood of patriotism that we Americans suddenly all felt, of all the flags that everyone suddenly remembered they had, of the things of which we were reminded, having so often taken them for granted. But I will speak to them not as the American I felt I was that day, not as a person who lives in a country, but rather as a person who lives in this world. I will tell them how in the years following that day, I began to see this planet not as countries made up of people but as people made into countries. I will tell them how I felt the world continuously shrinking, how I saw the lines I had grown up drawing in my mind fading, how I saw the extent to which the life I had sometimes thought I had a right to was the result of a series of coincidences. I will speak to them of the desperation that I have never felt and will very likely never feel that made 19 people so desperately angry that their desire to hurt trumped their desire to live. And I will not excuse them or their actions, but I will tell my children that what I have seen in the world since has made me understand, to the infinitesimal extent that one can understand what one has never lived, why the faults of humanity lead to places like this, to scars like these, to me cross-legged on the floor with my back against an old blue sofa.

And when I speak of this day to my children, I will tell them to remember this day and the other days like it, when the people in this world hurt each other in uncountable, unfathomable, inexpressible ways. I will teach them to remember, the way I have been taught to remember, that every single person in the world holds histories inside of themselves. I will tell them to seek out those stories. I will tell them to learn about and from what and who they think is Other than them, and I will tell them to work to erase those lines because they are constructs of our own pride, of our own fear. And I will tell them to remember all of this not out of hatred or fear but out of love. I will tell them to temper everything they do and are with love, as much as it is possible for them to do so. Because this is what that girl nine years ago didn’t know then, couldn’t see that she would learn in the years subsequent to those moments she sat crying as flickering pictures of towers collapsing in on themselves flashed in front of her: in this fight to heal the wounds that we humans inflict on each other in a horrific and seemingly-endless cycle, love isn’t a perfect weapon, but it’s the best one we’ve got.
builtofsorrow: (polska | urbanite | florianska)
Dear Caban,

It is 11 November, and it is Armistice/Veterans/Remembrance Day. In Poland, that beautiful country in which our lives became intertwined, it is Independence Day too.

I wish I could see you. I wish I could, once more, link my arm in yours (feeling your frailty even through the layers of our winter clothes and coats) and walk with you through the city that brought us together, walk down cobblestone streets and past buildings and through cemeteries that you have known for years and I am only just learning. I wish I could once more try to wrap my mind and my mouth around your language as you do the same with mine and we struggle to understand each other, as you tell me your story & I ask you questions in fragments. As I gather your history and bind it up deep within my soul because my history exists in many ways through yours and because of you, and I will never stop treasuring this.

I remember, not thirty minutes after we had met, watching you from across a room as you tried to pour cream into your coffee and most of it ended up on the table, hampered as you were by the sightlessness of that deceptively-colored bit of glass filling in the space where your eye had been. I wanted to cry and help and fix you all at once, because I knew that you were a reason the city we would wander through later that day had been rebuilt and still existed, and cancer had stolen from you what two armies could not. And hours later, as we stood in a cemetery, surrounded by too-many-graves, I remember watching you, hampered by cold and wind and your stripped-away depth perception, struggling to light zniczy for the friends and the parents and the city and the nation for whom they and you had given so much. One red, one white: Polska.

I wondered then what offering my help would mean. If it would be stripping you of one more thing that you by rights should have had, or if reaching out my hand to steady yours would communicate a desire to attempt to honor in the smallest, admittedly inadequate way everything you embodied. I remember then how we walked through more graves and more graves and more graves, and we stopped and bowed our heads over the graves of your parents: your father had 38 years, you told me. I noticed that your mother had 31. You told me they died as soldiers. You told me that when you were a boy, everyone was a soldier.

I remember the way your hands felt on my face, soft and cold and full of a history that became a part of me that day. I remember the way you took off your gloves and you curved your gnarled, gorgeous fingers around my jaw and held my face steady as you told me that my eyes reminded you of your mother's. You told me I was beautiful, like she was. You told me she had 31 years. I remember how the inside of me felt like it was ripping apart.

Later, I wrote about you. My words were inadequate by necessity, because no one, least of all I, could ever write about you in the manner in which you deserve. You deserve the highest accolades, written in the most beautiful language in the most beautiful sequences of words ever woven together. But much as I treasure words: your life and the beauty of it, what you meant to all of history – it is the summer of 1944 and this is Warszawa and here are you and your comrades-in-arms and everyone is a soldier in the army that even its allies won't help and the Nazis are systematically destroying all but fifteen percent of your city and the Red Army sits across the river as you fight and fight and fight – this could not then and cannot now be put into words in an adequately meaningful way.

That beauty, that meaning, it was tangled in the contortions of your hands; it lived in the wrinkles of your skin and the depths of your remaining eye and the curve of your smile that all the hideousness and evil in the world could not destroy. It was in the tremors of your hand as you lit zniczy. It was in the strength of your frail body as we linked arms and shuffled through ice and snow to pay respect to those who didn't survive. It was in the air between us as we created meanings for each other with the language we cobbled together from our separate, native tongues. It was in the way I felt once more, when I was a continent away and told that we, the world, had lost you forever, like the inside of me was ripping apart. It was there, in Warszawa, when I returned last summer and wandered through the city I had once hated but learned to love because you showed me the miracles underlying its very existence. It is, I hope, wrapped up inside of me, part of who I am and pushing me toward something I will become because you told me your story.

It is 11 November, Caban, and I remember, because you taught me that I can never forget.
builtofsorrow: (polska | kochamy napoleona)
I'd say I don't know where this came from, only I do (so what I really mean is that I'm not entirely sure why I'm posting it). This is me on memories of my life in Poland and too much Miłosz & Herbert (and perpetually on bits of Eliot). This is the bit of me nurtured by my career-Army uncle -- the bit that, in spite of my somewhat pacifistic tendencies, has the utmost respect for anyone who's ever worn a military uniform. (And this is me plagiarising military hymns, abusing wordplay and allusion, and referencing a lot of things I probably don't deserve to, as well as a lot of things that very probably only make sense to myself.)

But this is for everyone we honour on November 11 (or the day after, as the case may be). This is for the men and women I don't remember or think on often enough.

Most of all, this is for Caban and Magik.

And there are months crueller than April, when soldiers come in a family unit, and they fall: father, then mother, and on it goes, one by one and too young. )

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