Some Pith

I realized something last night in talking to Ann.

In 1986, I was home sick from school when the Challenger exploded. My mother told me to turn on the TV and I saw a repeat of the event. Within 15 minutes my ever-present coping mechanism kicked in and I started making jokes about it to myself. “No! I said Bud Light!” I’ve always used humor as a way of dealing. Gallows humor or self-deprecating humor, or just plain silliness has long been my method for dealing with scary situations.

I realized that it’s been a year since the World Trade Center came down, since the Pentagon was damaged, and since a plane went (was shot?) down in PA and I haven’t made any jokes. I can’t. There are no jokes to be made. Watch TV and read other people’s writings. Even Robin Williams, the man who can make anything funny, only joked about how New Yorkers were returning to normal (“Fuckin’ New York!”) rather than about the event itself.

It defies humor. It’s too big, too personal, to horrible, or maybe just too intimate for jokes. Ok, I did try to make one lame joke once. I noticed that Life cereal looks a lot like those shattered pieces of the World Trade Center. But the blank looks I got quickly got me to shut up about that one.

Why are we able to joke about so many things (why am I so able to joke about so many things) yet not this? I remember all the jokes about Elian a few years back. But I doubt anyone directly involved with that situation is able to joke about it. I remember jokes about Lady Di too. But I doubt the surviving people or her close friends can joke about it.

Maybe we can’t joke about 9/11 because it hit all of us. We are all involved. 9/11 did not happen to other people, it happened to all of us. We are all connected to it.

I wonder if this has ever happened to us, to Americans, before. Have we ever been so touched by an event as a people so as to have a shared pain and a complete lack of ability (or willingness, rather) to make light of it?

I’ve been reading biographies of revolutionary war figures. I’ve read Joseph Ellis’ books Founding Brothers
and American Sphinx
and am now reading David McCullough’s John Adams. Next on the list is The First American. I’ve grown to have a deep fascination for the earliest days of this republic and what it took to get this endeavour started. It’s blown me away. But it also made me stop and wonder what events have touched everyone such that no one could joke about it? Did the Civil War do that? Did any of the World Wars do that? I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. In my lifetime, this is the first time I can ever remember us as a nation being all touched as one.

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