For years I have said little to nothing about the September 11th attacks. Keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself for the most part. Not because I didn’t care or have empathy for all the people who suffered and died. Not because of the seriousness of the attack and later our involvement in a war. Rather it is because September 11th was such a visual event and being totally blind I struggle to have a connection to it.
Let me explain what I mean. First of all, this is not a blog post about where you were when x y z b happened. It is more about how my blindness protected or kept me from fully participating in a national, universal experience. This event was one of the first times I realized how my blindness separated me from other people. That I was different. In some strange, weird way it protected or kept me from entirely engaging in the pure devastation of the day. I was removed from it because I couldn’t see it. I was not able to totally share in our collective grief and horror.
Lost Vision Right Before September 11th
My father had passed away a few years before and I had gone totally blind in 1999. So, it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with grief, pain and suffering. Losing my vision and only 2 years prior was a real traumatic event and not one to shrug off easily. Therefore, I felt that my feelings of sadness and empathy were there and available. Still, something was missing.
Can’t Visualize the Attack
My roommate at the time attempted to describe the event. I had no visual memory of the Twin Towers only the Statue of Liberty. She positioned my hands as two tall buildings standing side by side. Then she took one of her hands and pushed it into one of mine to simulate one of the planes crashing into one of the towers. Yet, after all of that I still didn’t quite get what was happening. How do I visualize two tall skyscrapers falling down? How do I understand people jumping and falling out of buildings to their death? How do I visually process a large airplane flying directly into a building? How do I visualize a building collapsing into itself? And then the huge cloud of debris and dust that went up into the sky coming back down to cover everything and everybody on the ground. I could not visualize any of this no matter how hard I tried.
Book and Podcast Finally Help
It was years later when I read the fictional book title “False Impression” by Jeffrey Archer where one of the main characters was in New York on September 11th. The author vividly described the scene and action. The character was in one of the buildings in the staircase coming down. She escaped only to get caught up in the cloud of debris. Then I got it! The buildings falling, the people jumping to their death, and the cloud covering people on the ground. Things began to make sense. And all from reading a fictional book years later! Who would have thought?
It happened again last year when I was listening to the Talk Description To Me podcast. They did an excellent episode on September 11th. They described the day but more importantly they described photos. The one that is sealed in my memory is of a Black woman, named Marcy Boarders, who was covered in so much debris it was hard to identify her race until she wiped her face. She was called the “Dust Lady.” She was just covered from head to toe. It was just that awful. I could actually imagine this beautiful and distinguished woman in her nice business suit coated in filth and dust. As they described her appearance my heart sank. I was deeply saddened for what she and many others went through. Then to find out later she died from stomach cancer was terrible. Again, I got it. The images really sank in and I understood the gravity of the situation although many years later.
Speaking Up at 20th Anniversary
Now, we are here at the 20th anniversary. After all this time I feel I can say something about this day and not feel so disconnected. I can join in on the conversation when people recollect and share their stories. Yes, my blindness did protect me but I do understand better what happened from a visual perspective. It has taken time but knowing this helps me to be more mindful, empathetic and caring to people who experience loss on this day.