When I’ve asked—in the five years following 9/11—what is most remembered about that day, many people describe noise.: explosions and collapse, chaos, sirens, and cries for help (for those at ground zero); hours of unedited news coverage (for the rest of us), editorial commentaries, government reports, theories and conspiracy-theories, songs, documentaries, TV specials, and now movies.
Yet, some people like me barely hear the noise. We are those troubled by the silence.
There were the silent scenes of explosion and fire as the planes crashed one after another into the towers (and the Pentagon): silently smoke billowed from the 110 story buildings; silently—as we watched the news reports—the first tower crumbled followed by the second: silent, in that the cameras were too far away.
There were the silent, blank gazes of the men and women that emerged from the wreckage—scarred by images of living-death. On the front page of newspapers, there were the frozen pictures of falling bodies screaming silent screams as people chose to jump rather than stay inside and face the inexplicable, unimaginable alternative.
There were the silence concerns beneath newscasters’ comments, amidst the myriad of voiced reports—the silence of unanswered questions: How did this happen? Why did it happen? What could we have done? What can we do now? How do we prevent it next time? Will there be a next time? Will it ever happen again? Will it…O God…when?
Even Wall Street was silent. Wall Street—the icon of security for capitalistic consumers: silent.
There were the silent skies in the days that followed. All planes were grounded and—for those living near an airport—that silence proved deafening.
And there was the silence of empty space once filled with tower—and with tower, business; work and conversation; relationships and people: life. There was the silence of fear (we all felt it) and the silence of nauseating horror. Americans have subjected ourselves to so many movies of horrific Armageddon just to make us scream. But this time, reality snuffed out so many cries as we sat or stood or fell numbly into states of shock, disbelief, uncertainty, and depression: silent.
The unending noise continues on: one politician blaming another for this catastrophe and that debacle; blogspheres rampant with hypothesis; conspiracy-theorists with their “specu-mentaries” brandished as true; Hollywood’s theatrical renditions; and justifications of excuse as excuse for libel.
Sometimes, I think, the noise comforts us—drowning out the gnawing realities of our emotional intelligence—by filling up the emptiness with something, anything. In some ways, we have become like children drumming loudly against a bedrail so as not to hear the soft creaks of an old home or whispering wind. Preferring that which we can control, the noise has become our blanket and security so that we need not face the whispering doubts of our hearts.
But eventually the noise ends, and in the darkest parts of the waking night the silence returns—that silence which haunts my waking moments and troubles my deepest sleep. That silence which surrounds so many recollections of 9/11 like a wall of jagged steel and glass—a perpetual scar on the landscape of our collective memories. In the silence, we cry. In the silence, we wait. Eventually, noise always ceases, but the silence never dies.