When I wrote Hope and Other Punch Lines, it was my way of grappling with the legacy of 9/11 and my own obsessions with those moments when the world cleaves into a before and after. I wasn’t interested in exploring the political ramifications of that day (there are many people way better equipped to tell that still unfurling story) but instead with the personal legacies of loss. How does trauma shape people and communities? How does it fundamentally change how we see and interact with the world, even (or especially) decades after the fact? What does “never forget” mean in this world of death trackers, of swaths of the country mapped in red, a chilling echo of the terror alert threats that used to grace our nightly news back in 2001?
Most interesting to me, how do we continue to laugh and to find humor in our darkest moments and in the grim wake they leave behind? Would it be possible for me to write a book that allows us to feel the visceral horror of 9/11 but also gives room for us to joke around?
After all, only in loss (as in fiction) do we embrace the full range of our humanity.
They say that reading novels builds empathy, and of course, I believe that’s true. But reading novels in times as dark as these also helps us metabolize community-wide trauma and can lead us through with laughter and light. For better or worse, this next generation already well knows that the personal is political and the political is personal. What they don’t yet understand is the benefit of historical perspective, of catharsis, or all the ways they will grow from pain.
To students today who are off to college or work in face masks, 9/11 seems like ancient history. Even for those of us, like me, whose brains are forever imprinted with images of falling towers, who tell our children the “where I was when” stories, admittedly there has been a receding. The literature of 9/11 aimed at teens is an attempt to help them craft what never forget means to them and how, ironically, sometimes never forget also includes a delicate reckoning with the fact that life goes on.
Even when, like now, the world seems like a dumpster fire, we still laugh, we still love, we still read and muddle our way through. We still embrace the full range of our humanity, together.