Letter From New York 9/11/09

Or: as it seems to me…

Labor Day is the emotional if not literal end of summer. The season lingers until later in September but Labor Day… Labor Day is the acknowledged end. Labor Day, in recollection, was a languorous Holiday celebrated by adults while I did my best to mask the knot in my stomach at returning the next day to school. (Particularly painful was the holiday prior to my entering third grade; I was going to be subject to the infamous Sister Neva – a fate to be avoided. Alas, I could not and she proved as daunting as the legend.)

Labor Day weekend in my childhood was a time of barbeques, gatherings of family friends, adults sitting in lawn chairs with highballs and cigarettes while the scent of burgers wafted through the back yard air. It was a moment of indolence. If the phone rang it was generally a guest asking if there was some last minute barbeque component needed.

Flash forward to today. Indolence is on the backburner. Today all Labor Day means is that the velocity and volume of demands diminish. My phone rang with more business demands than social overtures. Business didn’t stop; it slowed. I think the last really languorous Labor Day happened sometime just as email was entrenching itself as part of the business motif. Now I am old enough to remember a time before email – yes, I know that makes me suspect in some circles but it’s true. Before email the world breathed a little easier. Now, with email, cell phones and PDA’s, we are trapped in the immediacy of NOW which does not recognize the boundaries of Holidays and personal time.

Labor Day rest is gone as are vacations. My friends no longer tell anyone they are on vacation. Emails are simply answered from PDA’s poolside. God forbid we tell anyone we have signed off for a moment – they might discover what we fear: they can survive without us. And we can survive without them.

It is anticipated – and we allow the anticipation – that we are always available, that everyone has the right to reach out to us and we will be there. At the ready. With the answer.

It is the world we have created and accepted and it is not going to go away. Yet there are hints people are attempting to deal with it better. Pre-Labor Day weekend I was on the phone with friends and found myself flattened against my desk chair in despair as I witnessed twenty new emails come in demanding my attention as the screen refreshed. My friend Meryl suggested some good coping mechanisms I am doing my best to adopt. I am working to not obsess on the computer and set it aside to do some real work as opposed to responding in Pavlovian fashion to every email popping up on the screen.

Added to the weight of electronic tethers, this year’s Labor Day Weekend came a scant four days before the anniversary of 9/11, the eighth such anniversary and for some reason, at least to me, it was arriving with a sense of discomfort. Mentions of it seem to bring me to the edge of tears for reasons I am not sure I can explain. Is it, I wonder, that I thought eight years ago, that eight years out there would have been some kind of rock solid resolution? I understand intellectually that is not a reasonable expectation. Emotionally, I want one. For God’s sake, World War II was over in about half this amount of time. Instead, we are still in Iraq and digging in in Afghanistan. In emotionally distancing ourselves from 9/11 we threw a self-indulgent economic party. Between the wars and self-indulgence we have nearly bankrupted ourselves.

At a dinner with friends we talked about the world that is emerging. Something new is arising from all of this and we are afraid of what is coming – everything has changed. Technology has altered our world as much as 9/11 and the Great Recession. Put them all together and you have a brand new world – not necessarily brave.

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