A lot of people talk about the present in the context of post terror. That said, I think a lot of us still live in fear more than we'd like to admit, and a lot of us live with the shadowed finger of what has come before and what will never be the same.
On September 11 of my first year in high school, I found myself shunted over to my old elementary school after all of the public schools shut down and the crying paused, hovering, before footage and dust became permanently imprinted on our minds. I don't remember the walk - just around the corner - to that crumbling brownstone and impenetrable iron grating which kept in my childhood, my faith, and my last innocence. I do, however, remember the smell of spaghetti and bread rolls and the sound of unknowing and still-in-youth children. I remember the blossom of crabapple trees and the darkly lit stained glass edging the playground. The asphalt, the wood chips, the everlasting feeling of late summer.
I stopped there. I stopped in the stairwell on my way up to canned marinara and limp noodles and felt only that the world was about to change and that I couldn't help but find fierce joy in being in this state of nonbelieving.
Today, again in an elementary school, I stood on the playground and saw two planes cross each other, dizzy and delightful in transfer ware blue sky. And I thought about terror, and I thought about the smell of taco meat and cafeteria bleach, and I wondered if I would ever be free of what has come to define the recent history of the world.
The planes passed and arched off into the different paths of their personal future. I kept my eyes on them as long as I could. I watched and wondered when the crash would come.
I'm not an alarmist, and I'm not, by any means, terrified - but the memory of that feeling, the oh my god, the beating of feet, the baring of running mascara and unbidden prayer, filled me up and made me spill over into irrational what ifs.
Another trivial event gave me pause. I've recently become addicted to the band Mumford and Sons, and I've been listening to their Dharohar project album - a mix of Indian music and British folk rock - pretty much nonstop. Oddly, the blend makes me think about the Irish trad I heard in a small pub in Cork. I've written about those experiences at length; suffice it to say that my time in Ireland was formative and unpleasantly and luxuriously informative.
These memories are ones that I would give anything to relive, but I found myself drawing parallels to that time in the stairwell on the precipice of finally understanding that we can never go back.
We can't, and we shouldn't.
Happiness is not so easily defined, not held in a glass of cider and not captured by the moments before a storm. My fear of passing airplanes and my adoration of youth and music and liveliness - they're all linked. They are things that can't come again. And they both hold in them a goodbye.
Life now, post 9/11, post Ireland, post diagnoses and the Eucharist, past political despair and improbable political hope, may be informed by what has happened but must not be defined by it. I couldn't sacrifice my happiness on this new playground any more than I could sacrifice my peace at home, not abroad and not indolent, with my family. If I were to be held immobile, a mosquito in honey amber, I would miss out on all of the awe-filled moments of not only the future but of today.
I still feel that sweat stink of impossibility. I still hear the news, oh, how still and nerveless. I still feel my feet move in hard heel clicks and shamelessness as the accordion and guitar rouse me to dance. But I am more than that. We are more than that.
The children I work with, you see - they don't know. Their moments of shock and unbelieving will come, but here, under airplanes and with sweet music, they feel nothing but the present. And we, we adults, we must secure that. We must take it into our hearts.
A little boy told me he'd like to be in first grade for the rest of his life. He can't, of course, any more than we can erase the shadow of two towers.
But maybe we should try harder. Maybe we should see the past and yet, oh so softly, learn to live with the change.
Maybe we should stop being, and start becoming.