I sat down this morning at work to finish this --- to get everything out of my system before the new work week commenced --- but then I overheard colleagues a few rows down disparaging the ceremonial reopening of the NYSE that had been televised the night before, and one of them said, "They've had four days of my sympathy --- now go back to normal mode." And I had to leave the room.

If I had true courage, I would've walked over to them and said, "I'm so sorry the American tragedy had to impinge on your comfortable sense of reality. They can't just go back to normal mode because over five thousand people just died when planes fell out of the sky. They don't have anyone they can attack to feel better about themselves, and this is all they can do to rebuild personal and national morale. And you know what? No one forced you to turn on your fucking TV and watch them mourn, which you really shouldn't be doing anyway since you haven't an iota of respect or compassion for what happened, so why don't you just take your fucking normal mode and stuff it into your big-assed mouth and go home and cuddle with your wife, poor woman that married you? (Oh, and by the way, aren't you lucky she's still alive?)"

I wanted to be meaner with that comeback, dramatizing it in my head right now, but I can't. It's a measure of the enormity of the event, isn't it, that it can't be trivialized even with well-intended sarcasm. To be fair to Singaporeans, that comment wasn't made by one of them. But he obviously wasn't American, either.

But it's not about America. It's about the lives that were snuffed out in that one brief moment; whether it happened to America or Afghanistan, it's equally tragic. I know I'm glossing over a number of factors here, which as a good student of international relations I shouldn't do, but this is my gut feeling. How can you mock any attempts --- tacky though they might be in some other context --- to turn weakness to strength, despair to hope, insecurity into solidarity? Would any country, any government allow tragedy to splinter, serrate and finally eviscerate their nation from within?

I'm not sure if what I overheard triggered my highly misanthropic mood this morning, but I truly felt like I hated everyone (except my colleague Mel, who is the nicest person in the world without being the slightest bit saccharine, and who is nice without ever having to think about it). I doggedly plugged into my music, savaged a number of disappointing examination scripts, and tried not to talk to anyone for a few hours.

What is it like, a week later?

I don't quite laugh at terrorist jokes anymore, even when they're courtesy of Jay and Silent Bob. The hardest part of watching the movie on Saturday night was not wincing at the terrorist-related humor, even though I kept reminding myself that the movie was made months ago, before America changed, and that the humor wasn't in as bad taste as my brain was registering (although it was in pretty bad taste for other reasons).

Even saying that something is "evil" took my breath away last week --- I can't remember the circumstance now, but we were watching some sitcom on TV and a character pulled a prank on another one, over which I enthused, "That's so evil!" And then I stopped, and let it hang in the air, and was relieved when the laugh track carried us along and I didn't have to dwell on the true evil in this world.

I don't feel as guilty for not tuning in to CNN or some other news network all the time when we're at home, though I felt a first twinge when we first switched from news to two hours of C.S.I. and The X-Files on Wednesday night, just twenty-hours after what happened. The car radio is no longer tuned to the BBC. I don't want the events of last week to become banal, the way Pearl Harbor was vulgarized by the arrogantly eponymous film, but I can't bear the hopelessness of hearing the same news repeated hour after hour simply because, well, there's nothing new now.

I haven't forgotten how to smile and I'm so glad that friends who were close to the epicenter of events haven't forgotten either. There are two friends that I need to call in New York whom I haven't because I procrastinated and I didn't know what I'd say to them, but I will make those calls right after I finish this.

But I can't stand to watch the footage of the plane crashes and tower collapses. I sigh heavily when I see the hole in New York's skyline. I feel the inchoate hurt rise from my stomach towards my throat when a lawyer friend in London is clearly so stricken --- on simultaneously professional and personal levels --- that her convoluted e-mail is full of legal jargon I can't possibly understand. I read Sars' firsthand experience of what happened in New York and I'm knocked over all over again, yet a minute later, like her, I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry over the fact that there's a room in hell reserved for her.

And life goes on. My brother, who studies at UW-Madison, seems oddly unaffected by things, if he's being truthful in his journal. Maybe the female gender is the more emotive, or maybe it's just the horror of seeing and hearing people I care about, the city I care about, in such a devastated state. When I first heard a BBC newscaster say "the devastated city of New York", another part of me lurched and I thought: there's a phrase I never imagined I'd ever hear, not in this lifetime, not in any lifetime.

I'm thankful for friends who are safe, for people who are so eager to help, for sober minds ready to contemplate and not merely condemn. I wish there were something inspirational I could say here in closing, but this isn't the week for it --- nor might it ever be again.


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