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As much as they hate to admit it, some Americans are tired of being
By Allen G. Breed, Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. — Dare she say it? Donna Nobles is fed up with being made to relive Sept. 11.
The elementary school teacher's aide shared the fear Americans felt that day. She understands the need of families to memorialize loved ones who died.
But she thinks the continuing hand-wringing is radiating an air of weakness to our enemies. And she says it's time to stop.
"Enough is enough," Nobles, 47, says as she prowls the stands at Raleigh's Farmers Market. "We need to realize that life is for the living."
Nobles is far from alone in voicing frustration -- even vehement resentment in some corners -- at what many feel is an unhealthy fixation on things 9/11.
Perhaps some are jaded at seeing entrepreneurs make money on T-shirts, hats, anything with the FDNY logo. Maybe they're sick of digging deep to make donations, only to hear victim families say the money didn't reach them or that they didn't get enough.
Or it could be post-traumatic stress, the crush of pain and sorrow simply too much to bear.
Callous though some sentiments might sound, mental health experts say "9/11 fatigue" is as natural a response as the waves of patriotism and grief that swept the nation after terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"Americans have a hard time living with uncertainty," says psychologist Debra Condren, who has offices in New York and San Francisco. "We want closure. We want quick fixes. In this case, there is no resolution."
Closure is precisely what Brian Pilant craves. "Shut up about it!" the 28-year-old bagpiper from Tempe, Ariz., grumbles when asked about the attacks, plugging his ears with his fingers for emphasis.
When the attacks occurred, Pilant was as shaken as any other American and, like family and friends, was glued to the television.
"I thought it was the end of the world at first," he says.
Now, he says all the sorrow is getting counterproductive.
"I'm not sick of hearing about things that we didn't know that we know now," he says. "I'm sick of the whining and that `What about the children?' sort of mentality.
"We need to drop it. Talking about things that we can do and take care of, OK. But stuff we can't do anything about -- like the fact that it happened -- we can't change that."
Others, though, say the continued reminders are necessary to avoid becoming complacent.
"Living in Columbus, Ohio, you feel safeguarded in a way and that's not good, because we're not," says Bridget Molloy, 39, who still takes time to read victim profiles when The New York Times publishes them.
"As Americans we have very short memories," Molloy says. "My concern is that people will slip back into a comfort zone. That's when we'll get caught again."
But some feel that we, as Americans, have a nasty habit of overdoing some things and, perhaps, not doing enough about others.
In Evansville, Ind., bank security guard Leslie Barnett notes what he sees as the unfairness of the attention and money given to the Sept. 11 victims and their families.
"What about people killed in (bombings in) Oklahoma or Africa?" says Barnett, 65. "Or what about the servicemen killed whose families just received military life insurance? Somewhere, you've got to draw the line."
Others are afraid to vent their frustrations. They worry how it will sound if they remind people that not all firefighters and cops are heroes, or say out loud that they're weary of widows' tearful interviews.
New Yorker Mark Prindle is one who says it pains him to say so -- but he's tired of hearing about Sept. 11. He worked on the trade center's 104th floor six years ago, and went down to gaze at the smoking rubble after the attacks.
Now, he feels the barrage of news stories and remembrances is making it impossible for the victims' families to overcome their grief. And in the end, Prindle says, all the attention cheapens the very event it is intended to memorialize.
"Some people here were worried that they might make a national holiday of it," the 29-year-old public relations specialist says. "It'll just be like Memorial Day, where it's like, `All right. A long weekend. 9-1-1. Let's go to the beach."'
Sam Sears, an associate professor at the University of Florida Health Science Center and a licensed clinical psychologist, says some people might be feeling what is known as "compassion fatigue." It is hard to hold a lot of compassion and empathy for long periods, and events such as the terrorist attacks -- which fill people with sorrow and fears for their own safety -- stretch the capacity to sympathize with others.
"Being empathetic to somebody else takes a lot of work. And, honestly, this is such an event that has evoked such empathy and such compassion that is very difficult for people to feel comfortable," Sears says.
While people are often empathetic, the human brain also has developed the ability to compartmentalize or even shut things out before they can cause irreparable emotional and even physical damage, says neuroscientist Craig Kinsley.
"As humans, we possess the capacity to engage in a form of intellectual cud-chewing, like a thoughtful deer, mulling and re-mulling events in our minds to the point where we are able to accept their existence, no matter how awful," says Kinsley, a professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. "Little reminders of 9/11 act like puffs of gasoline on a dying fire, but soon the fuel burns out."
Not soon enough for Nobles.
She and her husband, Earl, passed through New York recently on their way back to Raleigh from Maine. They made it a point not to visit ground zero.
"I'm ready to just not even worry about it any more," says Earl Nobles, 47, a construction project manager who was flying to Philadelphia as the first plane struck the trade center. "Just distribute the money and let's get on with our lives -- and be done with it."
Shannon Allen, offering peach slices to passers-by at the Farmers Market, says he is dreading the attacks anniversary.
He had worked in New York for several years, and his daily train commute ended in a station beneath the twin towers. At first, he couldn't get enough news of the attacks, watching on TV while a friend on the phone from New York described the scene from her roof.
But soon, all the Sept. 11 funds, the tribute songs, the celebrities shedding tears and asking for donations just became too much.
"You could almost choke on it," he says.
Allen wishes the anniversary could be observed respectfully, and, most of all, in silence.
"We're aware of what happened. We know it's the anniversary. What more is there to say?" he says.
The television networks have been struggling mightily to strike the right balance in their coverage. Kinsley says each of us must seek that same middle ground.
"We, as humans, have a need to memorialize, in the sense of memory and recognition, and the human spirit is a constant source of amazement," he says. "But evolution did not prepare us to be paralyzed in the face of such losses that occurred on 9/11. Those who suffered and are suffering still must, at some point, tear their eyes away from the past and look ahead.
"That's where life is."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Allen G. Breed is the AP's Southeast regional writer,
based in Raleigh. AP writers Pauline Arrillaga, Kimberly Hefling and Liz
Sidoti contributed to this story.