Joyful fatalism

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 1999, Debra Lo Guercio, all rights reserved

      So. Here we are, one year later. As I write this column, it's Tuesday, September 10. The official date of The Day That Changed Life As We Know It is actually tomorrow, but it is today -- Tuesday -- that has an eerie anniversary feel to it.

      I remember September 11, 2001 vividly as a Tuesday because in my life, Tuesday is press day at the Winters Express and everything else falls by the wayside. Nothing else matters on Tuesday.

      But not last year. Before heading to the office, with that astonishing, horrible, crushing, collapse of the World Trade Center towers etched into my mind, I felt my spirit shattering. Somehow, we managed to get the Express out that day, dabbing tears, brows anxiously furrowed, the air tense with uncertainty, even though on this Tuesday, the Express seemed comparatively trivial. Yet, it was something tangible to focus on when the world seemed to be crumbling, and it kept me from dissolving into a pool of despair and panic.

      Over the following days, my fear and shock evolved into rage and hatred. I hadn't truly experienced those emotions before, and found their intensity both awesome and frightening. I wanted to hurt "them" bad. I wanted blood. I wanted to see the skull of every al Qaeda member crushed under the heel of American retribution. I still do. Me. The person who shoos flies out the door rather than swatting them.

      I was sure I'd been irrevocably changed. I'd never laugh again, never smile again, never see the light side of anything, not ever. I was right and wrong. I am different. I'm not the same person who went to bed on September 10, 2001. But little by little, light shines through darkness and life began to seem "normal" again, whatever that means now. Life goes on, and it demands to be lived.

      I learned to laugh again. And smile again. I still seek the positive spin on everything. My essential nature is to be happy and, thankfully, that hasn't changed. What's different is a chronic, low-level sense of foreboding, like some terrible thing might happen at any moment. It's a dark shadow that follows me and disappears the moment I turn to confront it. It's never there. And it's always there.

      As we approached the anniversary of September 11, I wondered how to express my thoughts and feelings in writing. I'm filled with conflicting thoughts and feelings. How can I make sense of what doesn't make sense?

      One day, while listening to the radio, "Bad Moon Rising" by Credence Clearwater Revival came on, and I said out loud, "Yes!" The odd blend of happy, catchy, clap-along-with-me music contrasted by lyrics dripping with gloom and dread captures my feelings exactly: joyful fatalism. If my mind had a soundtrack, that song would play in an endless loop.

      I've come to view September 11 not as an isolated incident but part of a larger picture -- global warming, pollution, the collapse of our economy, climate changes, worldwide poverty, energy shortages, terrorism, corporate fraud and an impending war with Iraq. I'd like to slap a huge bumper sticker on the world that says "Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket?"

      When you look at the whole picture, the human race seems compelled to annihilate itself. We've become collectively suicidal, and as long as we're going down, we're taking the planet with us. We'll destroy ourselves and everything else too. We're headed for extinction, to become merely another layer of petroleum in the earth for future beings to fight over a billion years from now. On the grand scale, I've lost hope in us.

      On the small scale, daily life is still beautiful and precious. Flowers still bloom. Puppies still wiggle. Babies still gurgle with laughter. People still hold hands and kiss when no one's looking, and sometimes when they are. Little kids are still hitting home runs, French fries still taste wonderful dripping in catsup and chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven smell as heavenly as ever.

      I'm not wealthy, but I manage to pay my bills and have enough left over to have a little fun now and then. My children are beautiful and healthy, and we love each other deeply. I don't have the greatest job in the world, but it's certainly not the worst. I keep showing up every day, so it ain't all that bad. I don't have cancer, there are still birds outside my kitchen window and best of all, despite everything going on in the world, I keep waking up every morning. That simple fact both astonishes and delights me, now more than ever.

      Despite it all, I still feel happy. I know, intellectually, that the world seems precariously poised on an abyss of doom. But as long as the world around me is still here, and the people I love are still here, and life still seems wonderful and worth living, I might as well just dance to the music. I'll feel happy, even if I can't think happy. I'll enjoy life while I can. I can't control what goes on in the world, I can only control how I live each day through my own choices. And I choose to dance as long as the music lasts.

      Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, well... you know. That's how September 11 affected me: each day, each moment, is a precious gift. Every smile, every hug, every sunrise, every cool evening breeze is a blessing. I'll never take them for granted again.

      "I see a bad moon rising. I know the end is comin' soon..."

      Shall we dance?