When Will We Stop Counting the 9/11s?
It's September 11 again. And I'm dreading it. I want September 11 to go back to being just another day in the early fall.
Is this wrong?
I don't want to see 9/11 become rote and rehearsed, about reading the names of the 2,996 people who died that day, about lifting up and looking at all the same questions -- "Are we safe as a nation?" "Are we closer to peace with our enemies?" "Are we more aware of our vulnerabilities, more accepting of the truth of vulnerability?" -- without any more effort put toward finding the answers, as a country, as a nation.
Image: André-Pierre du Plessis via Flickr
Instead, I want to mourn privately, the way so many of us already do. 9/11 happens for me about 142 times a year, when I think of one thing or another that takes me back to that crisp, clear day, and the moment in the street after I came up from the subway, when I saw people crying, and seeing the gaping hole where the first tower had been, and the plume of smoke where the second one still stood, but not for long. That moment that I realized knees really do buckle in the face of shock, as I felt mine give way. Those moments are tied closely to the moments I remember, when I just bow my head and thank holy god (and I am not a religious person) that I am alive and well and instantly feel guilty for all of those who are not, for all of those heartbroken family members left behind. That, to me, is memorial.
A friend I used to be very close with lost her husband that day, and being friends with her changed forever how much of 9/11 could belong to me. This friend watched as media swooped in and tried to turn her into a feel-good magazine cover (she was pregnant when her husband died, which made her an extra-special widow), as people tried to get close to and wrap themselves in her pain. I am a fan of empathy, but watching that did not feel good. She started escaping every 9/11, leaving the country with her newborn boy, knowing that, for her, that was the only thing that would ever feel right.
I don't know what feels right for me on this day. In years past, I have explained 9/11 to my son, who is now 10. I have seen the tourists riding the subway to somewhere further downtown than they would otherwise ever have gone. I have glanced at the newspaper headlines that trumpet this terrible anniversary. And I have kept the TV firmly in the position of OFF.
There is much for us to learn and honor and remember about 9/11. But very little of it is what happens in the media. (And I'm saying this as someone who works in the media.) This year when it came time to choose "what to do about 9/11," I thought it was time I chose to say what I think: Enough.
And it’s not just the media. It’s social media. It’s politics. It’s all of it. I love the drama of the lights downtown, reaching up far into the sky, as if they are searching for answers we still don't have, but enough. 9/11 is woven so profoundly into our lives, its aftereffects woven so deeply into our politics (for the worse), our communities (hopefully for the better), that anything to "remember" or "commemorate" what happened beyond that seems immensely petty, not to mention redundant, in comparison.
Let's not make 9/11 petty any more. Let's stop the annual public trumpeting, the pomp and circumstance, the political performances. Let's instead take just a moment of silence as a nation -- a moment to take our measure, a moment to be free from the never-ending American noise of spin and entertainment -- and just feel what we've lost. Then, let’s go back to living through another day in early fall.