I’m in a YA lit class and for a project I decided to read a book called Nothing by Janne Teller. It’s an acclaimed Danish novel that has been compared to Lord of the Flies, and for good reason. It is a creepy book about the cruelty of kids (with a bit of existentialism) and definitely for the high school set. You may not want to go further if you are younger.
(Trigger warning: inference to rape in book summary. Warning in general: I’m not the greatest patriot.)
Nothing is about a seventh grade class in a fictional town. One student (Pierre Anthon) gets up and declares, “Nothing matters. I’ve known that for a long time. So nothing is worth doing. I just realized that.” And he walks out, climbs a plum tree, and stays put. His mantra has snuck into the brains of his classmates, and they are frightened. They decide to show him that life has meaning by making a heap of meaning– sacrificing important things to show Pierre Anthon that life has meaning.
Here’s the thing: the kids weren’t making their sacrifices worth anything (a comb with two picks broken off of it?), so they start choosing sacrifices for each other. And the stakes keep getting higher. It starts when our narrator is told to give up her new sandals. She decides to get revenge on the person who insisted on the sandals by finding out what was precious to her, and a pet hamster is given to the heap. It escalates, with the next person desiring revenge on the next person in line. The Danish flag. The coffin of a deceased baby brother. A prayer mat. A girl’s “innocence.” And believe it or not, it continues to get worse from there.
“If it didn’t hurt, it wouldn’t mean anything,” one girl comments.
Eventually, they’ve forced each other to give up so much, they forget what it all meant. One by one, they decide Pierre Anthon was right. The minute you’re born, you start to die. They can’t see the spring, because it will turn to winter. Meaningless, meaningless. It ends in a way that would make William Golding proud, but is literally haunting. I woke up at 3 am this morning and finally got up at 3:40 when I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and watched Netflix. I read it yesterday in its entirety and was just overwhelmed.
And then I realized, today’s 9/11.
And I wonder what we’ve put in the pile since 2001.
I remember the day well: I was a high school senior. I woke up to awesome music and thought it was going to be a good day. And it was. At first. I do remember a fire drill during Practical Law, where (apparently) some of my friends noticed planes turning around. I didn’t notice. Before lunch, I heard some whispers about an attack. At lunch, a few people were running around saying if anything happened, duck and cover. (Please note, the girls were acting goofy because they did not realize the nature of what happened– a dumb pilot versus on purpose. The next day they were horrified at how they acted.) At that point I was still clueless, but feeling uneasy. I think it was Physics class that they announced the news. After school, my sister and I (accidentally) squealed out of the parking lot and went to my grandma’s. We called other loved ones.
The biggest difference from 9/11 to 9/12 was how we said the pledge. On 9/11, 7:25 a.m., I don’t think anyone said the pledge seriously. The next morning, you could hear a pin drop. And I cried. We were kinder to one another in the following days.
Never will I forget. But I will remember what I’ve lost. What we’ve put on the pile of meaning.
We’ve given up our freedoms all because we were scared.
Our privacy– or illusion of– has been tossed out the window. Thanks, NSA.
We’ve given up our dignity. TSA needs to grope you to make sure you’re not carrying a weapon. Seriously?
We’ve given up our naive view of the world. (Remember, I was 17 when this happened, and the worst thing that had happened to the country at that point was the Clinton scandal.) We are somehow convinced that everyone is out to get us, when really, they’re trying to calm us down from trying to “get” everyone else.
We’ve given up our sense of peace, paranoid about what MIGHT happen. Who can live that way, always worried about THE NEXT thing that MAY OR MAY NOT happen.
We’ve gotten to the point where watching NCIS: LA (which annoys me to no end), they are constantly abusing their power. “Isn’t that unconstitutional?” “Do we have fourth amendment rights anymore?” The answer is, no. And we barely noticed. (It prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, for those a little lost.) If it’s in the name of terrorism, anything goes. But we toss it around so much it could mean anything.
We keep sacrificing to the point where we wonder if it meant anything to begin with. We don’t pay attention to the losses until they inconvenience us or it’s too late. The government is happy to keep us in the dark. (Think of all we’ve learned since Snowden leaked files. It’s unbelievable what they were doing. And instead of, ya know, stopping what they were doing, they’ve bullied him and anyone associated with him. When Russia is like, yeah, y’all need to get your act together, there may be an issue. ) As long as we have bread and circuses, we will swallow whatever we’re told. (I’m not above this. I get wrapped up in pop culture news while serious news falls by the wayside.)
“The meaning is not something to fool around with.”
I wonder, what we’ve given up to find the meaning in freedom… America… what we stand for, who we are.
Am I cynical? Perhaps.
But I have a hard time reflecting on 9/11 and the tragedy of that day without thinking of the tragedy of what we have done to find meaning in the midst of terror attacks and war. Many lives were lost that day. Many more have been lost since the tragedy.
Have we lost ourselves in this search for meaning?
Has it been worth it?
What have we found?
PS—- I think this article helped me put this in a clearer perspective, and less serious: http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-6-weirdest-things-weve-learned-since-911/