Monday, September 11, 2006

My reflections on 9/11

Earlier today, my wife told me that a blog she frequents had put out a call for people to write about their experience on that day—a sort of Where was I on 9/ll sort of thing—and asked if I wanted to offer up a contribution myself. My first reaction and indeed the first words out of my mouth were, “I can’t do that!” Obviously, I overcame that initial reaction, but not before a lot of serious consideration.

The truth is I’m not like other people. I have a mild form of Autism known as Asperger Syndrome. Over the years I have come to terms with the fact that I am different; I have learned to mitigate it when necessary; but it is true nonetheless. The thoughts I have, and the emotions I experience, are far from the norm. I might feel deep emotion—even be moved to tears—at little more than the memory of a piece of music I love; I might not feel any emotion at all at a moment when every sane and normal person should; and I might find humor in something that hardly anybody finds funny at all. As you might imagine, this causes me a considerable amount of difficulty.

Regarding 9/11, I was so sure that my reactions at the time were not the norm—that they would be incomprehensible, perhaps even hurtful, to those who had lost so much or even to those who had experienced a more normal range of thoughts and emotions. So I firmly told my sweetheart that, while I’d help her with her account, I wouldn’t write one myself. I’m a good proofreader, particularly when it comes to making order out of chaos—another Asperger trait.

In fact my tendency toward pattern recognition is part of what this account is about, but I’m getting ahead of myself. After I got done helping my wife edit her own account and helping her post it, she asked me if she could read me some of the other posts. I said she could, and she began to read them. What I heard was very touching. Some of the writing was quite lovely as well, but pretty much what I expected—the normal range of emotions. So I had been right not to write and post my own account. Still, somewhere between five and ten such accounts, a strange feeling came over me: I started remembering that day in vivid detail and had a desire to write it down. I can’t explain what it was that came over me, but I suddenly thought that I had to get it all out.

I remember that I had been up late the night before writing some music and I was pretty deeply asleep. I recall that my wife came into the bedroom and asked me the strangest question: “If any more planes crash into buildings do you want me to wake you up?” I said no. (I’ll always say no to waking up though if I really have a choice.) Really, I thought I was dreaming anyway. Planes don’t crash into buildings over and over except in movies. A while later, I woke up and went into the living room where the rest of the family were watching the news. Buildings definitely were burning and collapsing. The first words I remember saying were: “So I guess I wasn’t dreaming, then.” I remember that some newscaster was talking about how “no one had any idea what or who” was behind the disaster. That’s when I started laughing. It was so obvious to me, that every time I heard a jet plane roar overhead I started yelling “Aaaahhhlaaahhalalalalalllaaaahhhhh!!!!!!” That was the main part I thought might hurt everyone’s feelings, but as I mentioned earlier, I often see humor in things no one else finds funny. And I thought it was hilarious that these talking heads were so completely clueless as to the very obvious cause. I knew we were under attack. I knew it was Muslim extremists. And I knew that you didn’t have to be the rainman to put that together. Of course as the hours passed, everyone came to realize what I knew in an instant; the talking heads could no longer deny it, even though it seemed like they, as usual, had to be dragged kicking and screaming toward the truth.

That day, I was never sad, angry or afraid. But I was and am an American. And I knew we had to do something serious or many more Americans would die. As time went on, I felt, as I still feel now, very positive about the steps that have been taken; but still, it doesn’t seem like enough. I love America and I don’t want Americans to suffer. I would prefer if it were not necessary to turn the entire Middle East into Glassistan, but I sometimes I fear that may be the only way to protect the civilized world. I also see that America and Americans may have become too civilized to fight this war as aggressively as necessary.

It’s often said that people with Asperger are detached—too detached to see the human cost of such extreme actions. But the truth is that I see these costs only too well—the cost of doing too much, and the infinitely greater cost of doing too little.

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