Don’t let the title fool you, I do remember September 11th, 2001 very well but I don’t remember it like the above iconic picture. Hardly anyone does. I was living just outside New York City such that, for me, I was in a no man’s land regarding the devastating attacks that day. I recall seeing tv footage of the smoldering and burning first tower while I was doing machine bench presses at the gym. I remember not understanding what I was seeing until the gym manager turned up the volume. I wasn’t from New York and I knew few there and even fewer from there but, yes, I do recall the feeling of unity in grief that day. I recall it turning into a burning resolve as the days passed. I remember that someone was crying on the streets everywhere I went. I remember wanting to cry and not being able to and I remember the comfort that the sounds of overhead fighter jets lent to the entire area that seemed to say “it’s over, we’ve got you now.”
But mostly, today, I remember all the days that came after that day. Over the next two years that simplicity of purpose, “let’s get those that did this to us,” became twisted up in Iraq invasions and Patriot Acts and partisan sniping. That initial pure reaction to protect ourselves and those around us and, yes, the natural human desire for vengeance, all got turned into bumper stickers. Over the next few years that initial unity of purpose got used over and over in ways it was never meant to be used.
I know that for those who lost relatives and friends either in New York or DC or Shanksville, PA on Flight 93, the loss of September 11th remains very real because the loss continues and will continue. But for those of us who lost no one I can’t help but think that our remembrance of the day is overwhelmed beneath the waves of 11 years of war in the Middle East and the loss of thousands of boys and girls dead and tens of thousands maimed, thousands who’ve shot themselves upon coming home. These are the things I think about now when I think about September 11th. I think about how I had no idea what was in store for the country over the next ten years and I had no idea what was in store for me.
The week before last, someone I was good friends with killed herself in her room at the Kandahar Airfield in Pakistan. She shot herself with her sidearm. She was a gentle woman and she’d been fighting terrorism for nearly ten years. She’d seen a lot of dead people and she’d killed a lot of people indirectly. She’d seen a lot of lives destroyed. It was too much. So, that’s what I think about. I think about how she shouldn’t have been there anymore and how, now, she’s not. She was the first friend at my old job in D.C. that ever thought I was a beautiful person at a time when I felt foul and disgusting.
So, memories overcome memories and things that might have seemed clear and understandable become things that are not understandable. Pure memories become minor calculations in the checkout line and anger about the financial crash. They become rage at domestic spying and wondering if you’ll ever find anyone to love. This is the way that it is and it’s why we have memorial days and celebrations. We can’t remember it the way it was, time moves on and we move with it.
But, we honor the civic contract. We wave the flag and celebrate selflessness. We lift up our ideal values and declare them universal. We promise to attain them. We hold one another’s hands and some of us weep for the memory and some of us weep for the memories of others. Some weep for the lack of memories out of some unfathomable feeling of sadness and some don’t weep at all.
It’s all real, don’t think it’s not.
Below are some links to articles about memorials and remembrance ceremonies going on all around the county.
- USA Today has a general discussion of how the memory of September 11th has changed. It’s interesting and is more of a discussion of how the culture of the US has changed to accommodate the memory of the attacks, the process of an event becoming “history.”
- The Atlantic has a column on the people who put together the first viewing platform for Ground Zero. This was fairly soon after the attacks when Giuliani was still mayor and it was almost impossible to see anything much less go to a designated area where strangers could see Ground Zero together.
- Families of Peaceful Tomorrows was founded by the family members of some who were killed in 2001. It speaks for itself but it’s interesting to see how some have turned pain into action of a different kind over the years.
- Here’s a link to a New York Times article describing the ceremonies in New York today.
- A car bomb was set off in Benghazi, Libya today near the Libyan Foreign Ministry. A few people were only slightly wounded. No one was killed.
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