I woke up realizing that I had failed to set my alarm clock and that Tuesday morning class would not be happening. I pulled myself off the futon into my desk chair and opened my NY Times morning update. While I was reading about one plane, Outlook Express chimed its merry New Mail sound to notify me of the second.
I wandered out into the living room. I wasn't the only housemate pacing around looking bewildered.
We wandered out of the house. We weren't the only ones in South Commons pacing around looking bewildered.
We wandered to the Villard Room. There was little room for pacing; bewilderment had faded into genuine shock. And, yeah, terror. Cellphone reception was down and landlines were no better; there was an antenna atop one of those towers and the lines were clogged solid. People couldn't reach their families, their friends. Alums were making their way out of the city back to campus - often hiking across bridges before finding their way north. When they arrived, the shock in their glassed eyes made ours look like eagle-keen awareness.
That day shaped more of our lives over the ensuing 14 years than I think we account for sometimes. In that time, there have been more nights I went to bed exhausted and awakened to a changed world. Thankfully, every time the shift has been that immediate and that seismic, the change has been for the better.
The threads of change that have increased the amount of suffering in the world - in this country - have been far more insidious and hard to pin down. I think we've spent so much time this almost-decade-and-a-half fighting Big Obvious Enemies that most of us let down our guard against the lurking blights that are only Enemies if we anthropomorphize them (I'm looking at you, Ta-Nehisi).
Now we've got a country in so much pain from so many injuries that it's hard to separate one from another well enough to *begin* triage. And so many of us don't even see or feel the injury, caught up in battle-lust or denial or the weary combination of the two.
Our hair-trigger responses to the differing perspectives of our peers isolate us into scared packs of homogeneous belief. We lash out at the smallest hints of racism, transphobia, misogyny. Or we lash out at the smallest hints that our traditional beliefs and rituals are being attacked by progress, treating equality as a zero-sum game we are losing because others are winning. We numb the tectonic cognitive dissonance of equality as zero-sum by filling the split with confirmation bias.
We speak everywhere of assault - the assault on gay marriage, the assault on Christianity. The assault on the Confederate soldiers of the past, the assault on the Black bodies of the present. The assault on women's reproductive rights, the assault on men's rights. Only a handful of times are we actually referring to physical violence - even when we are, it is the ideological violence that arouses our righteous ire. We are hyper-vigilant against these assaults, often defending ourselves and our pack far beyond what the situation warrants. Or we defend against specters that disappear when we strike.
So many in our scared packs are jailed in the past, seeing only the echoes of what came before in what occurs now. Our collective memories, unreliable as they are, present themselves as the Gospel according to which we must interpret the state of things.
Acute trauma followed by shock. Hypervigilance, constant re-experiencing of the trauma, altered sense of self, deep mistrust of others. There is a clinical term for the symptomology I describe. This country has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.