First-year gestures of completion

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(Host) Commentator Rebecca Coffey reflects on what is involved in achieving a measure of emotional recovery after a loss on the magnitude of September 11.

(Coffey) It’s been about a year now. Five months ago, the cleanup crews at the World Trade Center finished their work. They’d sifted through debris around-the-clock to give bereaved families someone to bury. They found tangible remains for only about half of the families who lost someone at the World Trade Center.

Only about half of the families will be able to do for their loved ones what Antigone of Greek literature went to such great lengths to do for her brother, Polyneices: touch the dead, hold onto the dead, swear allegiance, and thereby begin the move on to completion.

We’re told it takes a year to mourn a death. But murder is different from simple death, and calamitous murder on the scale of what happened in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania more different still.

For some families, emotional recovery may never come. Even for the hardiest and most resourceful of those families, what recovery they’ve achieved was probably accomplished in the same manner in which the crews cleaned Ground Zero: sorry task by sorry task.

No Vermont resident died in the events of 9/11. We’re a lucky state, and talking to the people in our southeastern corner, it seems that we have recovered to a remarkable degree. Fear has abated. So have cries for revenge. Yes, on September 11 it seemed like we witnessed the end of the world. But we didn’t. And now we know that.

On the anniversary of 9/11 there will be ceremonies. Surely radio and television will broadcast moments of silence and songs with which to sing along. On that day I will be silent when asked and I’ll sing along when prompted.

In truth, of course, no song will be strong enough. For despite the strides we, the lucky ones, have made in our recovery, wrapping up our loss and moving on threatens to be a challenge more immense than the weights of the lost buildings and planes.

When I make those first-year gestures about completion, I’ll try to do it the way people have known to do it since antiquity, the way Antigone did it for Polyneices, and the way the families of those who died may do it. I will swear allegiance to those I love. I will vow never to forget what happened to thousands on that day – or to the rest of us who watched and wept.

This year we have all learned what life can cost us. And we have learned to keep our minds attuned to what we have to protect. For that lesson, at least, I am glad.

This is Rebecca Coffey in Putney.

Rebecca Coffey writes on mental health issues.

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