Sunday, September 11, 2011

Obligatory anniversary post

Today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11. As if you don’t know that. 

I’m really not that gung-ho to talk about it. I feel like I exhausted everything I had to say about 9/11 years ago. Apparently I’m in a minority in that regard. 

A remembrance of that tragic day seems to imply that we haven’t been thinking about it or otherwise feel its effects every second since it happened. But we have. Should it make a difference that today is the 10th anniversary? Maybe. But I imagine it’s like reliving a molestation, a devastating fire or particularly traumatizing combat. It’s a horrible event to which a statistic adds very little. And it’s certainly not something I would want to watch on TV in real time again. 

From the start, 9/11 retrospectives have done nothing for me. I only needed to see the World Trade Center buildings fall once before it was so burned in my brain that my memory could be admissible as evidence. Where I was didn’t seem important because my insignificant story added no insight to the magnitude of the day. I wasn’t there. What I remember is what I felt for the victims, and I’m not sure I possess the constitution to relive such heartbreak. 

It hit most of us immediately, as was so often said, that “things will never be the same again.” And not for the better. That was evident in the aftermath. I didn’t live in the most tolerant place to begin with, but seeing classmates yell at each other and many people energetically preach hate and revenge that seemed retrospectively to have been bubbling below the surface, well, I never stood united behind that.

And I hate that there are massive chunks of this country that want 9/11 to stand forever as the essence of America. When they say “never forget,” they mean, “never move on.” And while we should truly never forget, we must move on. Because that’s the biggest victory the U.S. could have over terrorism. Keeping calm and carrying on. The trauma was very real, but it can’t be the be-all-end-all of our nation. We should be defined by our freedom and our resilience (and how both tie into each other), rather than by our most devastating moments and by the poisonous collective mindsets and disastrous political decisions that followed. 

The latter traits are what come into mind whenever I see yet another endless loop of the Twin Towers falling. The sinking feeling I had on that day hits hard again. I’m reminded of all the people I know who credit the horror of 9/11 with shaping their political and social views. I’m reminded of the obsession with overkill security measures and the almost glee with which many Americans said we’re now at war. That was (and is) a blight on American history and it can never vanish too soon. 

That’s not to say a lot of positive things came out of 9/11. They did, in droves. Amid the political and social divisions, we saw a selfless outpouring of humanity, good will and sacrifice that in many ways has continued. For all the socially acceptable prejudice and territorial flag-waving that’s been prevalent ever since, we’ve also heard from thoughtful Americans vehemently opposed to those same things. 

Which makes it especially poignant that, 10 years later, the United States of America remains in economic and political despair. We’re a nation constantly on edge. Austerity can be seen everywhere you look, except among the richest. Excessive security, and required deference to it everywhere, is a fact of life. We’re not only not innocent, we can barely remember innocence. 

When people say that 9/11 made America better, or more proud, or more aware of the world, my heart sinks all over again. Because this is an improvement only for a select group of people who are vile, selfish, standoffish and xenophobic. The rest of us (most of us, I like to think) didn’t need to start paying attention. We didn’t have a rotten core of superiority that was just waiting for the right moment to rear its ugly head. We didn’t need an enemy against which to define our love for our country. We understood our rights before and didn’t see them as peacetime indulgences. 

But 9/11 changed everything. 

I remember. We all remember, in our own unique ways. Every single day. But every day doesn’t have to be 9/11. And as long as I’m an American, I won’t let the tragedy entirely define my way of life. Can’t we all unite under that notion?


venessalewis said...

Oh, this is SO refreshing. I can barely look at my feed today....honestly, I've been turned off by the 9/11 build up for the last week. I don't understand why this country feels the need to relive a tragedy over and over, especially one that brings out the worst in us. Beautifully written and my sentiments exactly.

Joycee said...

I have to say it is a point of view that a lot of us feel but can't say outloud. We think we'll appear uncaring or disrespectful. I don't know how I got from my little corner of the world to your blog, but I'm glad I did!

Cajun Sinsation said...

This is so true! You said pretty much everything I was feeling that day but was afraid to say out loud for fear of sounding like an insensitive asshole. Then again, when have I ever been afraid to state my opinion??? You just said it better than I could have.

Ian McGibboney said...

I too wondered about feeling this way for a long time. But apparently there are enough of us who do. I'll bet it's even more than we realize.