I meant to start Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close today. You know, use a 9/11 novel to begin processing another year post-9/11. But I'm not ready.
I'm confused by my own reluctance to read 9/11 fiction. It's been 12 years- I didn't lose anyone in the attacks, I wasn't in New York or Pennsylvania. I grew up in Virginia Beach, 2 hours from the Pentagon and 20 minutes from the country's largest naval base. My city, like most military towns in America, went into lockdown. I was a junior in high school in my chemistry class when I heard what happened and, of course, we all spent the rest of the day watching the news in our classes.
But it was the first huge tragedy I had ever experienced. I went into the day a typical smart-ass but generally hopeful-about-humanity teenager, and left my school building coated in a cynicism I haven't shaken since. Some people identify their transition from childhood into being an adult pre-graduation/post-graduation, or pre-first job/post-first job. I divide mine walking-into-school-12-years-ago/walking-out-of-school-12-years-ago, as I'm sure many millennials do, and maybe that's the place I don't want to re-visit. The place where I learned the truth of what the world is, where I became harder and more defiant than I had been the night before.
I missed reading Amy Waldman's buzz-tastic The Submission because I wasn't ready to re-visit the TV screen in my head, all that news coverage we watched on a loop at school that day. When I pulled Safran Foer's novel off my shelf today, thinking that enough time had passed, it only took looking at the cover to know that I was wrong. I feel silly, almost, since I wasn't personally touched by the attack in a tangible way: I had no funerals to attend or rubble to clear. But now I have small children and instead of thinking about my own once-boiling, now-latent anger at the events of 12 years ago, I think about losing them in a situation I can't control, or them losing me. I think about how I've never promised them that I'll always be there, that I'm the type of mother who doesn't make those promises, and why that is. I think about them getting harder and more defiant than they should.
I believe in fiction. I believe all the corny bumper-sticker platitudes that bookish people say about literature: that it is truer than truth, that it is one of the most important lenses through which humanity processes itself, that it shapes and upholds and assesses culture. But in this thing, in just this one thing, I'm not ready for truer than true, I don't want to process the lesson, I don't want to assess.
So I'm putting Extremely Loud back on the shelf for another year, maybe for when my kids are older and we're not a nation contemplating another war. Perhaps it's cowardly of me to shy away from reading a book because I know it will make me face a complicated knot of thoughts about myself and my country and my family. But there is another thing I learned on 9/11: the truth of the world is that it is diamond-hard and diamond-cold, so (to quote Vonnegut) "God damn it, you've got to be kind." Even to yourself.