By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins
For those of you who missed it, the NYC book talk for Somewhat Close To Normal happened on September 11, 2014 at Teachers College, Columbia University.
The morning of the talk I was very anxious. Choosing 9/11 for a book talk of this kind seemed fine when I had booked it months out. However, when the sun came up that morning I felt uneasy. People lost their lives that day in 2001. People lost their livelihoods, friends, family members, innocence and sense of security. Who was I to talk about grief on such a day? There are such strong opinions on when/if such a novel should be written, but it was already written and published. I can’t just undo all of that.
I sat down in front of the television and waited for the memorial coverage to begin. I decided to send a quick note of condolences to one of my newer friends who was a First Responder that day. I didn’t expect him to reply, considering that the memorial service was a few moments away from starting, but I got a reply. He told me that he was proud of me. That definitely eased my worries a bit.
When I arrived at Teachers College, I was still a little nervous. I wanted to pay tribute to the First Responders, the victims and their families, but how? I decided to open with a moment of silence, share my story, and listen to the stories of the audience members.
The response like nothing I could have imagined. Everyone was hesitant at first, but the stories came out. Thirteen years later, it is still an extremely difficult thing to talk about, even if you weren’t physically at Ground Zero. But slowly, people decided to share their stories.
I heard from a woman whose husband was at Ground Zero when it happened. He came home to her that night, but sat in a chair for three days without saying a word. I heard from another woman who was taught that in any emergency, you go out and get milk and money. But when she looked down at the horizon, Towers that were there only moments before had vanished. I heard from another woman who calls New York home, but was abroad when the Towers were hit. She spoke of an outpouring of love and compassion from everyone she encountered, even though she was more than 7,000 miles away from home.
From this book talk I learned that you cannot tell someone how or when to grieve. Whether or not you are directly affected by any tragedy is not the ruler to measure how appropriate your grief is. We are human, we are connected and when one grieves, we all grieve.
I want to thank every one who came to my book talk and shared their experiences with me. Whether or not we meet again, know that I carry your tale with me always.
God Bless You All.