I mention this girl because it is I and because that is a moment where I felt a rare comfort in a time of my life that was really disorienting and surreal. The summer before my freshman year, my family lost my aunt, cousin and a family friend in a freak helicopter accident; a tragedy that was followed by the death of my mom later that year. These events left me in a quiet shock. I wanted so badly to continue living as I had before, but I couldn’t because I no longer recognized my life. My surroundings at Amherst were the same-Valentine, the Social Dorms, Frost-but I was not, and because of this, I could not shake the feeling that I was lost.
On campus this past week, I have seen this lost girl on the faces that I walk past. The events of Sept. 11 have left everyone bewildered in its wake. I see people try to continue on as before; going to class, practice, the bars, but I know that this is just routine and that things are not the same. Falling asleep with CNN still on your TV, waking up to msn.com death tolls and terrorist arrests, and being confronted by images of destruction on the front of The New York Times is not normal. Or is it? How do you return to “normal life” when an event has changed the way you look at the life you knew?
My answer to this question is to rely on what you do know. When I was dealing with my grief, I turned to the things that I knew that I could count on. I read and reread cards that my friends had sent me. I took the hugs that my friends at Amherst gave me, and I listened to the care in my friends’ voices on the phone. These things provided a framework for a picture of a life that had lost its resolution. I knew that I could look to these people to be there when nothing else made sense.
At the vigil last Friday night, a girl spoke about how she thought that the best way to get through this time of confusion is to take the words that we exchange in discussion and the small smiles and waves offered in passing, and to hold on to these acts as confirmations that Amherst is a community that exists as a support network. I would like to reiterate her statement. These exchanges are what make up our here and now; they are our reality.
It will be a long time before things return to what feels like normal. My life now is different from what it was before my personal losses, but it has, until this week, returned to a sense of normalcy that I can live with. I hope that, one day, we can say the same for the lives of those that have lost loved ones and friends in this tragedy. Until then, I offer the words written to me in the same faith: “I can’t even pretend to know what to say, but know that I’m there for you.”