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The Truth Hurts Like Hell
An Essay by Sharon Ball

audio Listen to Ball's essay.

Oct. 21, 2001 -- My back went out last Sunday. It happened as I stood in a sun-drenched field amid red maple trees and golden, quaking aspen, listening to a conversation about something small and safe and long ago. Suddenly, pain shimmied down into my hips and up toward my shoulders, before settling into a tight, throbbing belt across my lower back.

I felt betrayed and surprised -- betrayed because I wasn't bending, running or even moving when the pain came; surprised because a moment earlier I'd felt relaxed. I'd imagined myself far away from the dead people, shattered icons, diseased mail, the altered state of things, but it was only a willful illusion. My back, my body refused to ignore the truth, and the truth is there is no escaping the fear and uncertainty of the present moment.

" I'm feeling connected to an ancient human community united in fear and pain, beyond color, class, circumstance, country. Fear is something so specific to our species, pain is inclusive across time."

Sharon Ball

Even as I go normally onward, forcing my attention away from what I cannot control and toward what little I can, even as I try to keep things in perspective with thoughts like “Hey, in 1,000 years, who's going to care?” there's no escape.

The truth is, for me, it's impossible to resume my pre-Sept. 11 perspective about the world and my place in it. Professionally, I'm doing the same work.

Personally, I'm a member of the same family. Apparently I'm the same person, but I'm conscious of sitting in a different position and standing up in a different way. I'm feeling connected to an ancient human community united in fear and pain, beyond color, class, circumstance, country. Fear is something so specific to our species, pain is inclusive across time.

My moorings have shifted. I'm no longer just a black woman journalist, former Air Force wife, mother, lover, friend, transplanted from the foothills of Appalachia. I'm wide awake and impaled on a fearful global reality that cannot be denied, and I can't go back to not knowing. That's the truth. And like my back, it hurts like hell.

Sharon Ball is senior editor of the cultural desk at NPR News.