Island

(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by friend of Nothing But The Rain and blogger extraordinaire Kelly of Adventures in Poor Grammar. I’d recommend checking out her blog post-haste.)

It’s been a weird day.

September 11th, 2013 finds me in church.

To be precise, September 11th, 2013 finds me in a Quaker Meeting House.

I like the Quakers. They don’t give a damn if you believe in Buddha, Baby Jesus or Carl Sagan. They’re just happy that you’re there. And they don’t ask anything aside from silence from you while you’re there. That kind of worship is perfect for an atheist who is, in fact, probably thinking about Carl Sagan while she’s sitting there.

It’s not unusual to find me in a Quaker Meeting. I try to attend when I can.

Something about today just made me need . . . what exactly? Community? God? Reassurance?

I can’t think of an American born prior to 2001 who doesn’t feel a tiny bit of dread as the September 11th approaches, but personally, my dread has less to do with what happened on 9/11/2001 and more to do with the past twelve years.  

Now before you start thinking I’m some sort of horrible, America-bashing, nutjob let me be very clear. I am what one might call, patriotic. Enthusiastically so. I reread the Declaration of Independence every July 4th and celebrate Abe Lincoln’s birthday. I have a Top Five list of favorite presidents. (Lincoln, Roosevelt, Roosevelt,Jefferson, Clinton).  My vacations are based around American history hotspots. I love baseball and bourbon and bluegrass. I think Miles Davis was a national treasure. That’s number one.

Number two is that on September 11, 2001 I was a high school junior in rural Wisconsin. I remember very little of the day. An announcement over the loudspeaker while I was in Moral Theology saying two planes had collided over the World Trade Center. My AP History teacher informing us that we could “never understand what happened today without understanding the past” (we were studying the American Civil War, which suddenly explains a lot). I remember lots of loud arguments with my father when I went home.

And . . . that’s it. I didn’t live anywhere remotely near New York, I didn’t even know anyone who lived on the East Coast. The United States is funny that way. Sometimes something happens so far away, in a place so physically and psychically distant from where you are that you might as well be living in a different country, speaking a different language.

Over the past twelve years I moved away from home, went to college, traveled around the country and across the world. I’ve stood in Tiananmen Square and thought about that iconic image and the desire for freedom and ate guinea pig in a parish in the poorest city in Peru and pondered global capitalism and my complicity in the systematic oppression of others. I have friends who live on both coasts. I’ve lived through more thwarted terror plots in more countries than I can remember. I’ve argued about ends and means, security and privacy, the desire to help democracy flourish and pushing our values onto other countries. I’ve grown older.

I’ve grown up.

The biggest lesson of the last dozen years is less about the any of the usual things–patriotism, security, safety–and more about, well, pain. Sadness. How we deal.

I need to digress into a long quote from one of my favorite authors:

No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature, and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived, and then, by some means or another, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. [. . .] We draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearllike, from our souls without real pain.

I spent the whole day today crying.

This is unusual for me. Normally crying takes about five minutes, usually prompted by a Doctor Who episode or an acapella version of Amazing Grace. Actually crying throughout an entire day happens . . . never.

I work to end violence against women. It’s a good job, a meaningful job, a job that I love. But it’s a job that requires a thick skin. It’s a cause I’ve been working with for over ten years now, a cause with which a have too much personal experience. I’ve become one of those strong, smart, self-dependent women who can learn horrific things about the way people treat one another, take it out at the gym at the end of the day, and be completely charming on her dinner date two hours later.

Most of the time. But there are days that just . . . rub my heart raw.

I spent the entire day today reading about the effect of domestic violence on children. I spend a fair amount of my time reading wrenching reports, things that feel like they’re punching you in the emotional solar plexus, so this was no aberration. Or, it was, but only because I spent the entire day fixated on the statistics, on the horrible things we do to one another. It hurt. It hurt more than I could remember anything hurting in a long time.

And then Simon and Garfunkel came on the radio. It was like the goddamn floodgates opened.

I started thinking about what happened twelve years ago. I kept thinking about our clients. I remembered my own struggles with unhealthy relationships. It was overwhelming. It was horrible. It made me think of the Neil Gaiman quote and how we draw lines around our pain to survive, and how the sixteen year old me didn’t feel much of anything in 2001.

I also feel the overwhelming need to go to church.

I’m a recovering Catholic living in a deeply Catholic city, so my first impulse is to stop at the Cathedral. It’s on my ride home and is a gorgeous church. It’s also home to an archbishop I can’t stand, and if I hear a single person entreating and Benevolent, Just Creator to Do Things for Us We Should Be But Are Not Capable of Doing Ourselves, I might throw something.

I go to the local Quaker Meeting. And I sit for an hour in silence not thinking about Buddha. Or Baby Jesus. Or Carl Sagan. I think about the women and children whose lives I’m trying so damn hard to save. I think about the people who passed twelve years ago. I think about the pain that must be radiating out of me at the moment and wonder if the people around me can feel it crashing up on their own islands. If they can, how do they deal with it? And is there any benefit to sharing it anyway?

It’s been a weird day.

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