Thursday, September 11, 2014

25 // 16 // 13

Twenty-five years ago today, my father took his own life. Consequently, September 11 was already a glaring date on my calendar long before 2001. In the decades since, many things have happened on or around this date that have made it less the day of patriotism it is for my compatriots, and more of a day about the human experience. Though my emotions run the gamut today, September 11 marks a day in which, through trials, my relationships with certain people have deepened and have been a source of comfort for me on an otherwise bleak day.

I do not hear the same siren call of patriotism that others feel at this time of year. To me, the commemoration of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has often times felt like a contrived way to drum up votes and feelings of nationalism on the backs of those who really suffered that day. Rather, I remember the victims as people, not a platform or a cause. I remember that on that day, many spouses and children were forced into the type of family mine had become 12 years earlier: single-parent. I also remember that for the first time in my life, cracks were made into the surface of my self-imposed isolation.

In the days leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center, I had already begun my annual ritual of retreating into my own isolated world of self-pity. When the attacks occurred and the nation was bombarded with images of people leaping to their own deaths (my father's mode of exit), it was difficult not to feel like the world was purposefully imposing its cruelty on me once more. It was even more difficult to convince myself of this when, 2 days later, my friend's father died in a car accident. It was at this point that all of my energy was expended trying to separate the 3 issues and not feel like a victim where it was not my place to do so. Though the terrorist attacks at first felt like a violation of my pity-party, my friend's loss turned this on its head. It was the first time I had something concrete to offer with my experience in losing a parent. I had to model for her that though it wouldn't be the same, it would eventually be OK.

For as much as I tried to lead by example, this is a storm that often winds up being weathered together in a mutually beneficial fashion. Perhaps at times it was like the blind leading the blind, but as we navigated the loss of a parent together, I was no longer alone in the situation. The first cracks in my isolation were made, allowing the light from an event 3 years prior into my heart.

Sixteen years ago today, my best friend came out to me as a gay man. Though it only confirmed what I already knew about him deep down, my response was one of fear. He had already experienced peer cruelty based upon what others assumed about him. If he confirmed their assumptions, would the attacks escalate from verbal to physical? Considering that the world came to know the name Matthew Shepherd a month later, my fears were not coming from a place of ignorance.

Much like my friends and family do for me, I often (out of love) overstep when acting as an advocate for him. Though I do not assume he needs my advocacy, as a human being we are wont to connect our life experiences. Much like the way in which I linked my father's death to the 9/11 victims, I link my own life struggles to his coming out experience. When we were young, ignorance about my physical disability made me the brunt of taunts from my peers. As we grew older, the negative attention shifted from me to him. Years later as an adult, I found myself angry about the way I was treated, but downright bitter about the way my friend was treated. Neither of us made choices about who we are, and our roads are already difficult enough to traverse without "help" from outsiders. In addition to learning to be who we are, we were also saddled with the responsibility of sloughing off the hurt left by others. It was easier to shed the hurt from my own experience than it was to put out the torch of bitterness I was carrying for his experience, under the false assumption that I was helping him. It was only recently that he pointed out to me that if he wasn't going to carry that torch, I shouldn't either.

As if he hasn't taken enough time with me to teach me about his experience, he has given me the gift of having something to celebrate on an otherwise difficult day. September 11 marks the day our relationship took a turn. Though it was never anything more than platonic, the relationship between us deepened the day my friend bravely put his confidence in me and told me who he was. His foresight on the cusp of adulthood and bravery in a time, place, and climate that would cause most people to deny their identity brought light to an otherwise dark place in my heart...even if it took years for me to compartmentalize the sadness September 11 brings me and properly commemorate this milestone in my friend's life with the recognition it deserved. He shared with me more than just his identity. He shared the limelight of a day that should be his and his alone to celebrate by understanding that I benefited from his journey.

The word "indebted" seems an understatement when trying to convey how grateful I am for those along the way that have helped me navigate each difficult September 11. Today I hold in my heart those families who were altered 13 years ago. I mourn my father, and share my friend's mourning for her father. I am grateful to have a friend to navigate the experience with as we carry on our fathers' legacies. I also treasure the role my friend's coming out has played in my life. Leading by example, he has taught me how to let go of anger. Though I will probably never get a satisfactory explanation for my father's death or forget every name on my list of people that threw a slur in my friend's direction, he has held my hand as I have taken baby steps on the lifelong path to healing. Healing does not mean forgetting. It does not mean denying the rough situations that have shaped our existence. It means putting down the angry torches we've carried for far too long so that we may live life. September 11, to be sure, is a dark place for me, but "there is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no way to offer condolences that is enough or worded right or expresses the sentiment properly. Saying something, though, acknowledging absence clumsily is so much better than pretending everything is awesome or the same or okay.

I am sorry for your loss.