Reflecting on our losses by Donna Marsh O’Connor
September 11, 2007
The day is somber as it always is now on September 11th. Today it is literally
somber, the weather gloomy and I feel somber. But this year I’m home, not in
New York City begging for 9/11 truth, nor in Valhalla where Vanessa is buried,
nor in Washington, D.C. lobbying persons wrapped so tight in metaphoric suits
that they cannot see beyond their own tailored personae to understand what I
want. It’s really unfair to them, after all, since I can never really have what
Somehow I am a part of the “truth” movement–a movement of those
family members and citizens who believe at least that there are key questions
to the events leading up to 9/11, the events of that day, and the events post
9/11 that were never asked (forget answered) and that these questions need to
be asked so that the world can go back to its bucolic ways pre-November 2000.
There is an irony in this position for me (at least one) and that is I never
really believed in truth before because it rarely, if ever, in human discourse
relies on a laying out of facts that are indisputable. Instead, truth comes
to mean there is consensus (or majority agreement) that facts laid out in a
particular way mean something. Truth is always dependent upon cultural and collective
agreement. It is a noun. But you cannot hold it, despite Jefferson and King’s
beautiful incantation. Truths hold us as we believe we hold them. They lie.
(Note the line in the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be
self-evident: that all men are created equal.) Think about how this lie functions:
1) we cannot quantify the creation of persons and 2)we have never in this culture
nor any I have ever heard of valued all persons as if we believed in this. It
may be this very tendency toward erasure of facts that places us in America
in the position in which we now find ourselves.
Honesty (a verb) is the attempt on the part of an individual or group to be
truthful (an adjective or adverb). I think I believe in the attempt to describe
with integrity and ethics an event from the individual perspective. Honesty
is a goal, toward something really just out of grasp, a kind of groping. Actually
getting to the truth (the noun), I don’t really think this is possible. So let
me say from the outset, the concept of truth is not a laying out of the facts.
Not about 9/11/2001, nor any other concept of import. It is an attempt, an honest
attempt to describe our world in ways that touch factual data, lay out facts
and pose the right questions, questions that bring nuance to the world, questions
that allow for a multitude of possible ways in which we might agree something
has a truth value.
Today is the first anniversary of September 11th, 2001 that is overcast in
the New York area, that is not a visual re-creation of the morning we almost
had that day–bright and beautiful, crisp and possible. The weather today is
not a lie.
I read a news report that a woman in West Virginia who is African-American
was held hostage, raped, tortured and murdered by up to (allegedly) six white
persons. They (?) , the FBI, are investigating this as a possible hate crime.
Last night I heard on the news that there was a rope dangling outside of a
cultural (?) center in one of our esteemed universities. This rope may have
been a re-creation of a noose. (Not a real noose, but a mock-up of one. Or not.
Maybe it was just a rope?)
Who are these students in Jena? The Jena Six? Where I have been for six years
asking for truth? There was a noose in this story, too. More than one. After
an African-American student asked for permission to sit under a tree previously
reserved for white students, was granted that permission and took his literal
and figurative body to sit under that tree, real nooses appeared. A race war
ensued. Okay, maybe not a war. But clearly an event that needs America’s attention.
I miss my daughter. She was loud at parties. She had this exquisite head of
curls, steel blue eyes. She was rickety. Not really graceful. She had a very
thin waist and she was incredibly lean. She was one of those people who could
eat anything she wanted and not gain weight. Once I was at the beach, about
a year after 9/11 and I saw a girl who looked like her walking along the shore
line. She had a baby on her hip and for that moment, just a moment, it was like
those dreams I have and the world was back whole. What was I worried about?
There’s Vanessa. But then I knew it was a lie because this girl was walking
too slowly. Vanessa never moved that slow.
She hated when I framed the American world I saw in black and white terms.
She hated my singular outrage at racism and my tendency to name how it worked.
I thought I was just being honest. And it wasn’t that she didn’t agree, didn’t
see it, too. It was just, she said, that I was relentless. Give it up, Mom.
See something else for once.
I wonder now what she would think. The things I see. She’s on the phone in
my imagination to the uptown office as the world around her is about to cave.
She is telling a colleague she’s safe. Is she laughing? That large, throaty
I know what Bush is doing that morning. Right about that time. He’s walking
into a school building. Into.
She hangs up the phone. Leaves her earrings on her desk.
She never comes home again.
I know everything I need to know.
Donna Marsh O’Connor
Mother of Vanessa Lang Langer, WTC Tower II, 93rd floor