ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: It might be my imagination, but suddenly, in the wake of September 11, these ads were everywhere: In magazines or on TV tucked between football games, or between old movies. "Here, America," the theme was, "you need not live with your anxiety and uncertainty. Take this little pill--Zoloft or Paxil or Prozac, you name it-- and the darkness will lift. You will return to normal."
None of the ads actually mentioned the attack, the World Trade Center, the thousands dead, but behind the benign and smiling images of just plain folk feeling pharmaceutically soothed, that reel was running over and over, behind their eyes, behind our eyes. There was a tacit connection. The TV and newspaper shrinks, though, went right at it, at the anxiety disorder suddenly plaguing us. Yes, it was a shock, what had happened, but we should try to go about our lives. The "polls" and President said this too. We should walk, talk, eat, shop, fly. But if we got too wound up, too scared, then yes, we could seek out professional and/or chemical help. A certain amount of fright and emotional discomfort was to be expected, but prolonged distress or sorrow could and should be dealt with. After all, there was an economy to support, terrorists to rebuke, a war to be fought. The message was clear: Anxiety is un-American, and grief has a shelf life. Time to move on. Time to seek closure. Time to pop a Paxil, if need be.
But is there really such a thing as closure, that strange, wishful word? And do we truly want it for ourselves or for our country? Wouldn't that consign us to a strange false innocence, a willful blockage of memory, of feeling? Never mind that closure, as any and all of us know who have ever experienced a deep grief, is folly. What game is this we play then, what form of denial? Something wrenching happens; you lose someone you loved; you move on. But there is no real, final closure, no end to the loss, no matter how many pills you take or how fast you run. And we do tend to run fast in this country: Up ladders, across continents, into cyberspace and back again, a fury of activity and achievement aided and abetted by daytime stimulants-- a coffee house on every corner-- and nighttime sleeping potions. We live in a world now where pills are proffered for everything from excess weight to excess sorrow, from impotence to menopause, from unruly kids to terrorist attacks. It's a never-ending, heart-and- mind-mending pharmacopoeia.
Yes, we all know people who have benefited from taking a pill-- even perhaps, ourselves. But there is a sense that as a country, we are in danger of overmedicating ourselves, quieting our children before they learn how to quiet themselves, short-circuiting our sorrow before it has a chance, not to work itself out, but to work itself in to the marrow of our memories, the lines on our faces. Of course, we can erase those, too, can't we?
Why shouldn't we grieve at this moment, this first Christmas after, for the bereft families certainly, but also for the country itself, knowing that it is fragile in ways we had never imagined, and we with it? There is no magic pill, no end, no closure for this recognition, and we would be fools to seek it. Better perhaps to bypass another mall and head to some beautiful spot atop a mountain, next to a coastline or frozen cold lake, or here beside my beautiful Santa Monica Bay, and grieve openly, in celebration and gratitude, for what was lost and all that remains.
I'm Anne Taylor Fleming.