In perusing the newspapers about bin Laden’s capture and assassination, one Chicago Sun-Times piece hit me with seismic force: “Putting bin Laden behind me,” by Helaina Hovitz. Please, take the time to read it in full:
Without question, Helaina’s is the most brave thing I’ve ever read. Granted, I’m not a news fiend. But for me, this one is extraordinary. This brave young writer gave us a gift– the raw and emotionally gruesome details of her life from 12 to 21. She was 12 when the Twin Towers fell, living just three blocks away on 9/11. In 2009, she finally was diagnosed with PTSD and began recovery through therapy. She shares with us the excruciating path up until that time, with splendid vulnerability:
“As a result of tragedy that nobody could control, I lost all control and spent nearly a decade trying to get it back.
I was a sponge that absorbed the impact of bin Laden’s destruction of my world. My childhood was taken from me.
I should not be alive today for hundreds of reasons.
I cut. I met strangers online and drove with them to their apartments to drink and much more.
I made my promiscuous behavior very public online. I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings. I had panic attacks on the subway. I spent a great deal of time in high school crying in the bathroom because I was so severely depressed. I went on drinking binges that landed me in the hospital time and time again.
I am more than fortunate that I did not permanently ruin my life.”
And she lived to write about it.
In writing, she’s living.
She’s apparently still living in Lower Manhattan and working on her memoir. I will buy that book. I will be following this woman’s work.
I wonder how long it took Helaina to write this? To send it to her editor? To NOT panic, knowing that she had exposed herself so completely?
It is perfect, and I stand agog.
She puts a face on the terrorism of bin Laden: hers.
The last graph is strong:
“My name is Helaina Hovitz and I am a victim of a war crime. I thank you for giving me the chance to tell my story.”
No, Helaina; thank you.
She re-claims her life, owns her identity, and empowers herself with these confessions. She gets the best revenge: living well, and getting published in one of the major leading newspapers of America to declare it. She’s doing this as only a writer can. By publishing this, she’s jeopardizing future relationships, job opportunities, and obliterating her personal anonymity forever.
People will know. That’s a hefty price for by-line, even a spectacular by-line.
But I know why she risked it: with a story like this, what else is there?
She’s fully committing herself — irrevocably– to a writing life.
Talk about ambition. Honestly, I envy that.
She is the kind of writer, at 21, that reminds me I’m complacent with my own writing at 30. I hate the newsroom, but damn– moments like these are humbling. It makes me contemplate what I sacrificed by abandoning my journalism career.
Helaina did more than just compel me to acknowledge her humanity in this piece– she challenged me professionally.
I haven’t lived through an internationally recognized catastrophe– a diabolical terrorist attack three blocks away from my residence.
But somewhere inside me, I have a story to tell.
And it’s time I find it.