When I took on a position as a Yale Daily News columnist, I decided that my pieces would be “humorous, somewhat apolitical, but always relating to timely events at Yale.” My first column of the year was all set to be printed on Sept. 12, 2001.
Of course, after Sept. 11, all bets were off with humor. I sent a frantic e-mail to my editor, asking him if I could bail out. And the tragedy-related columns rolled in — sad, angry, pensive, political.
Life at Yale changed appropriately as well. Senior night was canceled. Wild, drunken parties were substituted by solemn, supportive time with friends. Comforting e-mails came from the administration and deadlines were pushed back. In that first week, the rules of behavior were obvious.
But now, as the days turn into weeks, we find ourselves cautiously, timidly treading back into normalcy. Last Friday President George W. Bush declared that flags be raised to full mast again to signal that the official mourning period is over. But what does that mean? Does that mean that with the end of official mourning comes official normalcy?
As the deadline for this column grew nearer, I asked friends for advice. Was it time for a non-Sept. 11 column?
“Yes,” said one friend. “People need comic relief.”
Another suggested I could write about the tragedy “in a more light-hearted way.” But both are easier said than done — I certainly didn’t want to become the new (albeit better-looking) Brooks Eubank of offensiveness. I turned to The New York Times as a litmus test.
I found, on the op-ed page, one letter by a woman telling Americans to smile, “because smiles are contagious — because although the damage of Sept. 11 is incalculable, so is our luck in living in this great country of America. How about a smile just for that?”
Ah, yes, the great cure-all for flakes around the world — smile and things will get better. Surely this woman — Letitia Baldrige of Washington — would have appreciated a good old-fashioned funny column. But reading that drippy, hokey letter, I realized I didn’t want to write for people like her. I would hold Yalies to a higher standard.
Perhaps Baldrige wanted us to smile because she thought Sept. 11 was a discrete event — over as soon as the second tower fell — and that America’s job is to pick up the pieces and move on. What she failed to see was that the collapse of the towers was only the beginning of a sad, protracted period of reverberating tragedies.
Not even the terrorists, armed with box cutters, could have imagined the destruction they would wreak. The deaths of over 6,000 people. The devastation done to the aviation business, resulting in thousands of layoffs. The unemployment of thousands of wage laborers in New York City’s service industry, for whom even a short period without work can spell poverty.
Which is worse: Bombing a country of innocent people to prove a point to a government they hate or bowing to terrorists? And finally, the most shameful of all: The myriad hate crimes against Muslim Americans, including the murder of a Sikh gas station attendant by a man who told police “I’m a damn American all the way.”
Sept. 11 will continue to collect new victims as America’s xenophobic, racist tradition takes a new turn.
Once again, the quandary of the humor columnist. With a funny, light-hearted column already written from the “Before Tuesday” era and a biochemistry test to study for, the temptation was there to send it off to the News, heralding Bush’s end to the mourning period.
But that would be admitting, if even to myself, that my life had not significantly changed since Sept. 11. That would be a lie. Before that day, no national event had ever brought me to tears. I had never feared my male friends would have to face a draft. I had never felt as vulnerable as in those first few moments on that Tuesday, sitting by the radio with my roommates. And I had never taken candlelight vigils seriously until the one that night.
So while this column may not make any sweeping statements about what happened or what we should do, it will also not make you laugh. I have always put humorous, satirical writing on the highest pedestal, but something is holding me back. The humor column I’ve already written is still on deck and waiting to be published.
But not this week. Maybe next week. But maybe not.
Nancy Levy is a senior in Pierson College.