How petty of me, sitting here in an apartment in downtown New York, wondering how I can win back his heart. The outside is separated by bricks and glass but inside is not the sanctuary one wants it to be. Police car sirens, ambulances, the faint smell of something burning, they all seep through our consciousness, even as we lie on the bed and negotiate our intimacy.
The tears don't stop and in the loneliness of my disappointment, I melt into the tales of missing loved ones, clutching my own whom I have lost for days. It's impossible to be dignified and eloquent when struck by tragedy, I think to myself watching the woman's face on TV contort, salty tears dropping from her eyes, as she holds up the picture of her missing fiancé for the camera and the reporter whom seem stuck between sleaze and compassion. Don't take your loved ones for granted, she remarks between her sobs.
Meaning needs to be found for meaningless loss and I am reminded of Iran during the war when every young boy, being sent to his near-certain death, was asked what was his message for the martyr-breeding nation of Iran.
Petty, petite, small. That's the only way we can go through life: Cutting it down to our size, to units of our understanding. And so I am petty and small. The crumbling of the towers, the mass of people running away from the giant cloud of smoke, the tears, they all seem like bit parts from movies we have all seen many times in our lives. Images stored in our memories now dictate our present and my present is dictated by images of indignation: I get up, make a statement, and storm out of the building.
Life is going on as usual one thinks: Stores are somewhat open, there are lights shining through buildings, cars on the streets, people eating, drinking, talking, smoking. It's all there but it is the details that tell tales of disintegration: The odd car covered in gray-beige dirt-ash, papers stuck in its various parts, the checkpoints set up blocking all entrance below a certain line, the Jamaican and Chinese women selling tiny red, white, and blue flags, and the fliers of missing people stuck here and there, two on the entrance to the subway, one on a lamp post.
I begin walking towards the hospital. Hours after the event, the streets had been not bustling with people but crowded with them. A line of blood-offering people hugged the hospital, people were walking mostly north, some south, mostly dazed, or so it seemed to our dazed minds. And walking among “us” were “others”, those who carried traces of death on their shoes and clothes. The man in front of us, lines of his body losing their struggle with gravity, head, neck, shoulders, waist, all weighed down by the lines of ash crossing his dark sagging suit, his shoes no longer black but a painful white. He brings to mind one of my favorite paintings of the Iran-Iraq war: A young soldier, standing with his back to us in a dark, rain-soaked street, his fatigues outshining the fatigue of the city.
Tonight though, several days after, the marked ones are at home and those who became part of the debris and rubble are now two-dimensional images on pieces of white paper, covering walls and bus stops and store-fronts. Makeshift hejlehs, whose numbers increase as time goes by. I could never bring myself to stop and look at those brightly lit and colorful stands commemorating the dead in Iran, as I can not bring myself to stop and look at these pictures of young and old men and women.
An intrusion I feel, into a world I have no part in.
We gawk at spectacles and here is one on a grand scale. Several hours and two buildings later, we walked south, getting closer and closer, using the cloud of smoke hanging in the distance as our guiding tool. No one had yet been saturated by the images and words of the days to come and conversations seemed stilted at point zero: Where were you when it happened? The air smelled of something, of vaporized building material and bodies, and at times when the wind blew on that beautiful day, beige particles floated freely in the air.
And like everyone else, I do not know how to be eloquent and dignified in the face of tragedy. There was so much I needed to say, to talk about, so much of it banal and petty, so much of it meant for the ears of him who'd rest his head by mine every night but what came out was tired and the same: Concrete gray blocks of disappointment mixing with tears of hurt. And the greater the tragedy became, the greater became my petty need to speak, the greater its impossibility.
I have asked myself this past week, as I have been asked by others, if there is any point to doing anything in face of a situation that seems to be beyond our control. I have asked myself that many times, in face of situations where my feelings and my will seemed almost irrelevant: arguing for love from behind a wall now erected to keep me out, arguing for peace at a time of almost certain war. And I have asked that if there is nothing to be done, how do we go on, day after day, our two halves in conflict, our hearts and minds torn apart? And in the face of the loss of both love and peace, I have often thought of the woman who walked into a lake before the start of WWII, her pockets heavy with carefully placed stones.
But today, the image of another woman appears to me, one who in the face of the smashing and vandalism of her car in front of her house only days after the World Trade Center attacks, refused to budge. “I won't let them scare me,” she said ignoring my anger, fear, and dismay. She's a woman whom I now realize has never backed down from anything, not for a day in the 30 years I have known her. And while the questions and the confusions from all that has expired remains, I know I must turn my back to that lake, pull the stones out of my pockets, and face her, my undefeatable mother.