September 11th, 2012


we will never forget

This 9/11 anniversary is surprisingly difficult for me. It's less because of the day itself and more about the way people are remembering it. FB is swimming in pictures of flags and soldiers and towers (or gaping holes where they used to be). I completely get that the people sharing these pictures mean well and that this is how you honor tragedy in the internet age. But something about it seems too... easy? Something like that.

It's ironic, because I was spectacularly untouched by the original 9/11. I was on a college campus which can be very insulating, and didn't know anyone in New York. I also paid more attention to international news than a lot of people so I think the concept of a terrorist attack wasn't as outrageous or surreal as it was to many people my age. (I'm not sure the scale of the attacks seemed quite real, then or in the months afterwards.) Then when I went on study abroad a little while later (this was eighteen months later) I saw how Europeans viewed the way we'd used our national tragedy to "justify" a war that had very little to do with al-Qaeda. Seeing those reactions did more to turn me into a pacifist than any book ever could. And these people weren't outlandish or America-bashers or anything. It just kind of made me see patriotism and national grieving from the outside.

Ironically, I do react to 9/11 strongly these days, but not the day itself. I've been living in NYC for the past four years, and the city feels very much like my home. When people talk about East Coast liberals not being real Americans (and I know they're talking first and foremost about my city), I get insulted. And when I think about Osama bin Laden choosing my city as the way to target American-ness, I get furious but also a little proud. I think of the kids whose parents never came home that my roommate works with, and the first responders who developed cancer sifting through the rubble that I've seen personally. And I know that this was an attack on a place I've come to live and call home - a vibrant, exciting but at the same time intimately warm city that I love deeply. I wasn't here when it happened, but that makes 9/11 something like the kid on the playground insulting your brother. It's just that personal. Intellectually I know that other people experienced 9/11 and grieve it without that connection - that it really is an American tragedy - but emotionally, somehow it feels uniquely mine.

Eleven years out, it astonishes me that the freshmen I teach, this wasn't the defining moment that catapulted them into adulthood. It's no more significant to them than the fall of the Berlin Wall was to me (as in: I knew it was a big deal but had no real sense for why, and I've always experienced it as history). It strikes me as a bit odd that 9/11 anniversaries get harder rather than easier as we go along; but it's true. People remembering hearing their loved ones were safe, the patriotism, the praising of the firemen + police department... I am glad people remember and certainly don't blame people for doing any of this. It's the right thing to be talking about today. But somehow it all seems insufficient.

Not that I have anything better on tap. I guess this is part of growing older and being an adult: realizing that for some events, words really do fail. So I think I'll light a candle and remember those even more directly affected than I was, and try to sit for a bit with the irreducible weight of it all. It's the only memorial I really have to offer.

*sends huggles to all*