Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hurricanes, Hijacked Planes, and the Skewing of History

Hurricane Irene was a bit traumatic. Huge dead tree limbs, which I'd procrastinated removing, hung ominously over the house. A particularly iffy giant tree waved drunkenly above my second floor bedroom, so I spent the night downstairs on an uncomfortable couch, awakened every few hours by the sickening crack of one large tree after another snapped by the wind. I was ready to flee into the basement if any of the Branches of Damocles pierced the roof.

The house was unscathed, but there was little time to exhale, as I got to work cleaning up the jungle of fallen wood. It was a full week before it was all cut, split, and raked.

And then another monster hurricane, Katia, was announced. I heard about it late last week, on a clear, crisp, pre-Autumn day with a brilliant blue sky. Which roused an odd deja vu.

I was transported back to a similar day in the fall of 2001 when my stomach began to freeze as I pondered what might come next. While the loss of 3000 was awful, the crippling thing was the sense that greater doom was imminent. That was where the terror was. New Yorkers were jittery for months - the anthrax scare, a mere footnote in the history of it all, was a really, really big deal.

Historians always know the outcome, and that distorts everything. I knew then, as I was party to history, that the takeaway - buildings and planes went down, so people grieved the loss - would be skewed and incomplete. The anthrax affair would be devalued because it turned out minor. The paralyzing dread, without any concrete event to pin it on, would hardly appear in historical accounts, though that was the tenor of the time.

In fact we do the same with our own memories. September 11 is recalled entirely via images of firemen, debris and fleeing mobs - concrete pictures we can can pin our emotions to. The more intangible emotional layer - the forward-facing dread - is less specific, more limbic. It's much harder to connect our memories to at an intellectual level. And history is always written from the layer of intellect.

But after a night of cracking tree trunks and 75 mph winds, followed by a week of physical recovery and emotional rawness, I received word of another storm headed my way beneath a crisp, autumnal blue sky. And I remembered.

No comments:

Blog Archive