Disclaimer: I love the 90s, for a lot of reasons and not the least of which is because they feel like a simpler, safer and more carefree time. I recognize this likely has a lot to do with the fact that I was still a kid then and that I was (and am) a white, middle class American. This disclaimer is to acknowledge that there are many other people who, understandably, feel differently.
It’s times like these when I begin to deeply miss times gone by. I remember that it was almost twenty years ago to the date that I was on a middle school class trip to NYC. About 20 years and one week ago, I stood, with many of my classmates, atop the World Trade Center. It had taken me awhile to go out on the roof. I am so scared of heights and often shake as I climb up, up, up… But everyone else was doing it. I stood on the top most floor, the 110th floor, and kept a distance from the windows, not wanting to see just how high up I was. My classmates were all smiles, as they rode the escalator to the open air of the observation deck. One boy turned and saw me, undoubtedly with my arms folded and a frown on my face.
“C’mon, Izzy,” He called to me, “Don’t be a chicken!”
And that was it. I made my way to the escalator and ventured into the world above. I exhaled sharply as I made my way on to the deck and grimaced, preparing to be terrified. But then it wasn’t so bad. There was plenty of distance between me and the ledge and it would have been nearly impossible to fall plummet to my death, as I probably was imagining. The city sprawled below me but it may as well have been all of the world. I felt free and exhilarated. The air was warm and my heart skipped a beat or two as I realized how unafraid and how happy I was. I felt both invincible and safe. In that moment, from my point of view, the world was safe and sound.
I couldn’t have known then that in just over five years, those towers wouldn’t exist anymore. And disappearing with them was the sense of safety and freedom I never imagined I’d lose. But that was just the beginning. Then came too many mass shootings; Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and now Orlando, among others. There was a severely misguided and calamitous war. There was Hurricane Katrina and a feeling that something just not right is going on with our climate. There was a bombing at the Boston Marathon and I was there that day.
Of course, there were things that came before, even in the US. There’s well, our whole history of racism and white supremacy. And then in my life time there was the Oklahoma City bombing. Columbine came shortly after and it was scary and made my high school experience kinda hyper-vigilant but… it didn’t change things the way things changed in 2001. Now there’s a collective terror and trauma and it keeps accumulating with each new horrific tragedy. Our reactions have ranged from fear to despair to grief to anger to numbness to irritability over the new norm.
I’ve felt all those things. But in the immediate aftermath, I often just feel sad. I grieve with everyone for the loss of life, the murders and the loss of times gone by. And I miss how things used to be. Or at least how I thought they were. Now I can see there was also far too much devastation in this world and even in my own privileged life, there was still trauma and sadness.
Still, there was a time the world and my life felt differently. There was a time before wars and mass murder and destruction was familiar to me. There was a time when my own traumas didn’t weight so heavily upon me. There was a time when life wasn’t much more than open meadows, rolling hills and fresh forests. When the outside world was so still, there was only the breeze in the summer and the snowfall in the winter. Despite some hardships, there was a sense of peace and I had no ability to imagine the world held otherwise.
Yes I was very lucky. But now that it’s gone, I wish and realize that we should all be so lucky. I spend my days chasing that long-lost feeling of tranquility. I want it back and the country life still feels better, closer to that. But there’s also a break, like a crack, right down the middle of my idyllic surroundings. Because there’s a sense that nothing is so safe as it once was. I don’t mean to sound as though I think I live in a war zone. Nothing could be further from the truth. I just mean, it’s different than it was. And I miss, oh I ache, for how it was. If only I could get back to then, if the world could heal or if all the horror could be undone.
I grasp for it, that past, that serenity but I catch nothing. Because it’s gone. And maybe someday we will heal and the world will be a better place to live. But for now, I am so sad.
I have many other thoughts and feelings on the Orlando shooting this past weekend, like how the Latino LGBTQ community has largely been ignored and how the anti-Muslim sentiment just keeps rising. These things are bothering and saddening me. But for now, this is all I want to say.