I felt guilty too just then, talking to my friend, wondering why I'd felt this dumb need to tell him this, as if placing myself there, right there at the scene, only twelve or thirteen years removed, actually meant something. When the fact was that, parents and friends accounted for, I was fortunate to have no direct connection to what had happened. I was as uninvolved and anonymous as anyone else glued to the news, as faraway as whatever famous person was currently tweeting out a prayer or platitude. Moments like these are when you hear, or at least I heard, people say they are glad that things like Twitter didn't exist on September 11, because can you imagine, can you just imagine, everything everyone would have felt the need to say. The sudden imperative invented by access, that clawing urge to feel counted as a witness. It would be too much. Amid all that chaos and terror, "Here I am!" can seem like an awfully silly thing to say.
A few summers after September 11, I took a long road trip around the country with two friends, and I'll admit to rolling my eyes at all the signs bearing images of the burning Twin Towers that dotted so much of the landscape, signs saying "We remember" or, more commonly, "Never forget." (One a declaration, the other a command.) We were a year into the Iraq occupation then, and, yes, I was angry at how national mourning had become a matter of pride, and how one tragedy launched us into another, possibly even worse catastrophe. But mostly, if I'm honest, it just seemed so self-involved. It represented the same desperate need to bear witness that things like Twitter or Facebook have now made so easy, too easy maybe, to satisfy.
So I was surprised when, yesterday, I found myself wanting to do just that, to post something -- some poem about Boston by Walt Whitman, or a quote I found from Haruki Murakami about running the Marathon. Something that would enlighten or soothe. Not just the vague Them of the Internet, but me, too. I was rattled in a way I've never felt before. I found myself getting angry at the people who were reacting to this news in the same way I would to anything else like this -- the intellectual detachment, the weary pleas to mute all the sensationalism. Of course mine was a purely selfish reaction -- this is my hometown we are talking about this time, a place I know well and have loved and hated in ways that are personal, owned by me and only me. Boston did, for a moment on Monday, become a city that was very much mine, and it was attacked, made dangerous, dragged into the broader world of uncertainty and fear that it always, to me anyway, seemed somehow buffered against.
It was a strange feeling, to suddenly understand why people react the way they do when horrors like this happen, to feel that helpless immediacy that demands a response, any response. The idea of Boston -- the city that raised me, which I both run toward and away from, as any child does -- being consumed by such gruesome terror commanded recognition, any recognition, any attention that I or anyone else could give it. This is Boston, the city of that library. Familiar and tedious even, but always safe. A place of furtive, childhood peace that is suddenly not that anymore. Not right now, anyway.