Thoughts from a reader about 9/11

Yesterday’s post has received a lot of commentary, mostly to disagree with me — although there have also been some points of agreement. Most of the commentary is on my Facebook page, but I also received an email that I’d like to share here (anonymously, at the author’s request) because I think it raises some interesting points:

Hi Dave,

We’ve never met, but like you I’m a science writer, and I used to follow you on Twitter. I say used to, because after reading your post “How about we don’t Remember 9/11/2001 today?” I unfollowed. I had hoped that this simple act of merely choosing who to read and who not to read, who to see in my feed, would be enough, but quite frankly I just can’t stop thinking about what you wrote.

I’m not looking to tell you my 9/11 sob story, or my Boston Marathon sob story either, I know that as a human being you can probably grasp the fact that there are people out here in the world who were and remain deeply effected by these events. But I do want to point out to you that however unintended it may have been, your post was a blunt reminder of how isolating and alone it can be to feel like you are the only one who simply can’t get over it.

Worse things happen to more people. I know that. I think about the civil wars in other countries, the acts of genocide and violence against civilians. I’ve been working as a science writer for a year now, and a day hasn’t passed since that I don’t think about the lives lost to cancer. I think about grief. I think about loss. I think about fear. I think about how lucky I am. I think about the pain and the mental and emotional anguish that so many people go through every single day and I just feel sad. And pathetic. And weak. Because thinking about 9/11 still hurts so very much. And because what I have been through is nothing in comparison to what goes on in the rest of the world. You are right, “with more destruction going on every day, should we really put that all aside to rehash our single day of victimhood?”

I wish that I didn’t have the memories of a terrified 13 year old, certain her dad (a first reponder to 9/11) was running to meet his death (he survived). I wish that I didn’t have the memories of a terrified 25 year old frozen in fear watching another terrorist attack bring a city to its knees. These are days I wish I didn’t remember at all. I feel awful that I can’t get over it, because I should, shouldn’t I? Logic would dictate that I should. I have tried. I continue to try. I have found that despite what I have been told, time does not heal some wounds. So while you are right that yes, it has been 12 years and yes worse things happen, no I will not stop Remembering with a capital R. I will Remember because for me, and many other people, remembering is not a choice, and Remembering 9/11/2001 is something I feel compelled to do.

I am glad that it didn’t touch your life in a way that makes you feel it is necessary to Remember, but in writing this, I hope that I have made a case for showing a little more empathy toward those who are unable to forget.

[name withheld on request]

Here’s the response I sent her:

Thanks for taking the time to reply. I really appreciate your heartfelt, thoughtful response and I can certainly understand how difficult it must have been for you to go through both 9/11 and the Boston Marathon attack. I ran the Boston Marathon this year and was deeply saddened by what occurred there. I wrote a blog post about it, too — albeit more of a tribute to Boston than a commentary on the events.

Sometimes I think it would be interesting to do an article about why events like Boston and 9/11 seem to affect people so much more deeply than other, numerically equivalent (or numerically worse) tragedies. I guess I was trying to get at that apparent irrationality in the post, but I probably swayed too far in discounting the very real harm done by these attacks.

Unfortunately I feel that the dramatic impact of 9/11 led to a vastly disproportionate response which not only harmed many more innocent people than were ever touched by 9/11, but also only increased the potential for more attacks in the future. I probably didn’t get that across very well in my post either.

Thanks again for writing, and I wish you the very best in your science writing career.



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