It seems appropriate to make some statement on this anniversary, for posterity or something. I’m a little wary of thinking of this date, it is my poor sister’s 6 month wedding anniversary today and I feel badly to be focused on something so sad rather than celebrating something so happy for my family. Beyond that, I’ve had a long day at work I’ve hardly had a moment to really appreciate or contemplate all of this– Ucellina is right, 9/11 is still raw for so many– and in many ways the grieving process has been twisted and disrupted in a way by having so much trauma exploited for meaningless political purposes. Before 9/11 I thought there was a lot wrong with the world. Since 9/11 I have constantly felt that the world has gone mad, and my neck of this world in particular. It’s kind of funny to think that people used to say that the tragedy that my generation would always remember was the Challenger explosion.
My first memory of 9/11/01 is of waking up in kind of a foggy state having slept in a little. It must have been after 9, maybe 10 or even 11 in the morning. I went online to check email and must have been on auto-pilot because AOL must have had news updates all over the place but I didn’t notice them. I got an IM from this guy Jeremy I knew online, who lived in the city. I went on a date with him once, I think maybe six months before and it had gone nowhere. It’s weird how this kind of event elevates the relationship I had with someone who in every other way is quite forgettable. His IM said “Are you okay?” I was struck by this and didn’t know what he meant. I instant messaged back ‘Yeah.” And then I wrote “…should I be?” And he said, “Oh my God. Turn on the TV!” And there it all was. Things I remember…
* Sending an email to everyone I cared about saying I was glad they were on the planet and remarking how wholly inconvenient my complete lack of confidence in our commander in chief was– and my (Republican) dad writing back, “It’s okay, president’s come and go.”
*Driving for a WEEK afterwards and having the sense that everything was so different, other-worldly. I remember there was a memorial service on the radio a week later and even on the highway you could tell everyone was participating in a moment of silence, everyone was driving so slow and intensely aware of everyone else.
*Trying to call my best friend by cell in the city and not being able to get through.
*My mom finding out at the dentist office, and watching how painfully she took the whole thing. I look at my mom as a microcosm of what I saw America go through in those days and years after. Asking me “why do they hate us?” and then rallying for mass bombings of anyone and everyone. And then sinking into intense anxiety and insomnia. And then reading anything and everything to the point that my parents’ house had every extreme view of foreign policy (liberal or conservative) that you could possibly imagine laying in piles throughout the house. It’s been an odd journey, but in the end this event turned my mom away from a certain kind of conservatism for good. She educated herself and it transformed her worldview in so many ways. But I felt a lot of pain seeing her struggle through the disillusionment this event brought to her. My mother was harder hit by September 11th than anyone I know who didn’t actually have a personal connection or up-close experience with it. I remember fighting with her because I was directing a show the next week in the city and she was begging me not to go.
*When I did get into the city days later I remember stopping by a kiosk that had NY t-shirts that hadn’t been changed yet and finding this child’s shirt with the World Trade Center on it— there was something so sad about it, this meaningless tourist item suddenly symbolizing so much that had changed.
*And later walking down the street stopping by a fire station that had been made into a virtual shrine, with a huge colorful letter from a Kindergarten or First Grade class that said they were sorry you lost so many friends.
*The moment the flag was draped over the Pentagon. I had never understood why people got so bent out of shape over flag burning or felt a need for a kind of visible patriotism. That view hasn’t changed for me, but I know I understood the baser needs articulated by those who feel those ways. There are times when there are no words and symbols are all we have. It left me speechless.
*Jon Stewart’s amazing show when he came back on the air, the only TV personality to get me misty in that time when everyone and their grandmother was getting on TV to comment on the meaning of it all.
*Seeing the second tower fall live on television, watching so many journalists putting their lives on the line
* Colin McEnroe telling off an evil woman who called in to his radio show suggesting that internment camps be set up for people of Middle Eastern descent the “way it was in the old days.” I remember feeling so thrilled and comforted to hear him talk sense– there was so little sense to be heard then. I remember realizing that I felt more patriotic than I ever had before, but that my patriotism was about Freedom of the Press and involvement in human rights initiatives– the kinds of things that so many “patriots” almost immediately seemed bent on destroying.
*Dennis Kucinich’s amazing “America” speech shortly after– so few of my values were being spoken aloud in those days. I remember maybe 2 or 3 weeks after 9/11 Bill O’Reilly did a segment “exploring” whether or not those who disagreed with a bombing of Afghanistan or questioned the U.S. response to 9/11 should be tried for treason. I remember when Richard Gere made a statement that he hoped Americans wouldn’t take their grief to cause further pain and turn it into hatred– and crowds booed him offstage. It was so alienating to hear hate and fear everywhere I went, and to feel that in the midst of such an environment of global grief– life became so overwhelming in those days. In those few moments when I heard of someone courageous enough to speak passionately about the cause of peace and the need for reason– I held onto their words as tightly as I could, it meant everything to know that I was not the only person left who felt that way.
So many random memories I had put out of my mind for a while… I had been in the World Trade Center in September of 1997, and when this all happened I remember obsessing sadly in my thoughts about the Windows of the World restaurant, and how my ears popped going up the crazy fast elevator.
5 years isn’t a very long time for a soul. In some ways it remains to be seen what the long term effects of this event really will be for America. Even now it is all too close to too many people’s hearts to look at the state of the “post 9/11 world” with any objectivity. I wish that our government would help us get on with the business of mourning and out of the business of war-mongering, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Some of my wounds have healed, and I’m guessing many of America’s wounds will never heal. But we are still here. 9/11 has become a spiritual anniversary for so many Americans, and like many other spiritual holidays it has been commercialized, exploited, and used for evil– but none of that changes the depth of feeling that gave it birth and the underlying meaning it can hold for so many. I hope that we will grow as a nation to properly acknowledge and honor this date and the scars it left on us. I hope that in the long run, whatever that is, historians will say that September 11th made us better human beings, made us value each other and the so-much that we have more. I am an idealist and I am proud to say that September 11th and all that came after it, has not yet destroyed my faith in humanity.