“No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
“Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
“They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
“And what difference does that make?"
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
I started reading Catch-22 in September 2001. If I took our copy off the shelf tonight, I expect I would find a bookmark about halfway through the novel, marking the spot I reached before bed on September 10, 2001. I mentioned to one of my students a few weeks later that I hadn’t been able to pick the novel back up. “But it’s so good,” he protested. “That’s the problem,” I replied.
For a long time, airplanes didn’t fly over Washington, DC. The airspace was eerily quiet. An occasional military aircraft would come along, and everybody would stop and stare, confirming that it had a right to be there, that it wasn’t happening again. A. and I still stop and watch after any airplane that seems to be too low, out of place, unexpected.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks, came the anthrax scare, and we wondered about the consequences of bringing in the mail. Then tornadoes swept through the area, hitting a college campus near us; although clearly a phenomenon connected solely to the weather, it felt like Nature was joining in against us. A year later, random sniper attacks had us wondering if we had found a new normal of life with fear and anxiety.
A few years later, I informed a class that I would be moving to Toronto “because it’s a safer place for my family.” A student interpolated in a calm voice, “To avoid dirty bombs and terrorist attacks?” In fact, the decision was based on Canada’s greater acceptance of same-sex families and the trend (at the time) of states moving in the opposite direction, but his reasoning made complete sense to his classmates.
A lot has already been said about this particular anniversary and even more will fill pages and airwaves tomorrow. Most days I can think about political implications and how our world has changed. But for now, this is more about gut emotion and sense memories.