The World Keeps Turning: Remembering 9/11
It was Tuesday. An ordinary, beautiful morning.
8:45 AM. For all but a few, all is still normal. The last collective moment of peace.
8:46 AM. A plane hits the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
911. The number that New Yorkers dialed.
9/11. The Pearl Harbor of my generation.
2,977 people were slaughtered. 19 men were the self-appointed executioners, the self-anointed martyrs.
Have ten years been enough to heal the wounds? Are 3,652 days enough to find normalcy, to regain life as we knew it? Is it easy now to forget that two towers, the enemy-chosen symbols of the American way of life, shook and collapsed like a man kicked in the knees? Or a building housing the brains of America’s renowned brawn was slashed?
We have indeed come a long way in 3,651 days. On September 12th, it wasn’t fashionable to be ashamed of this country, it wasn’t fashionable to treat people around you rudely, it wasn’t fashionable to politely tell the cashier “No” when asked to make a donation to the Red Cross. Instead, the thing to do was fly the flag, show kindness, and pray like the most devout people you knew. I guess the cynics were correct, as they often seem to be.
9/11 was a day of questions. We wanted to know the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Those answers were not too important in the immediate aftermath, as the ruins still trapped survivors, victims, and heroes. We rejoiced when another spirited form was found in the rubble, sniffed out by a dog that has since died. We held our breath as a limp corpse was gracefully removed. We dammed our eyes as best we could when we saw a uniformed body uncovered, knowing that the person likely decided to rush in to rush others out.
But, for most of us on this campus, we didn’t participate fully, or even understand in a small sense, in the post-9/11 life. We were young and dumb, suddenly aware of the shocking adult world of brutality, the seemingly senseless violence of death, the fear of many things we did not know we ought to fear. We saw people crying, suddenly more empathetic, suddenly more patriotic. The attack was so far away, and too much like a video game in scope, and therefore too unreal to us. We comprehended what had happened, but could hardly make sense of it in our young minds.
Looking back, it seems simplistically clear: 19 Muslim fanatics successfully executed a plan to assault America. Their targets were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and possibly the White House. They hated America for her freedom, wealth, and Christianity. They wanted to kill every citizen and no one was safe.
The sky was a vibrant blue. Visibility up to ten miles.
Looking ahead, very little is clear. The world is a complicated place, we have learned.
Questions still need to be answered. Were the hijackers Muslim fanatics? Did they accomplish their goals, whatever they were? Was the World Trade Center a valid representative of America? Was the Pentagon target a strategic move or a grudge finally settled? Was it the White House that Flight 93 was supposed to destroy? Did the hijackers really hate the freedom of America? If that was what they hated, did they really win the battle by prompting the Patriot Act and the TSA? If they hated our wealth, how is that different in kind from political rhetoric of the “too rich”? If they hated our Christianity, why is it we had to “find God” and virtues such as kindness after the attacks? If they wanted to kill everyone, why were only nineteen sent? If we are not safe, would a “gun behind every blade of grass” make us safer from enemies? What is an enemy? Who are our enemies? Did they win? Can we win? Have we lost? What is victory?
Smoke climbed into the air while ash slowly settled onto the streets. It was difficult to see five steps ahead.
Superficially, time heals all wounds. Really, the wounds are accepted and ignored, as if being broken is the proper state of health. People adjust, lives go back to normal, whatever “normal” is. The hurt is tucked away. Or the hurt we pretended to have is dropped from view.
That’s sad. Proper analysis and proper healing never took place. Maybe it was too politicized, too publicized, or too polemicized. Maybe we just didn’t care enough, despite all efforts to mask it. Maybe we just were too angry to think straight, like shell-shocked soldiers who stare numbly ahead at the carnage in front of them. Maybe.
Ten years later, there are more scars than scabs, more questions than answers.
Ten years later, despite the growing complexity of life, despite the fact that memories fade and respect is lost, we can take a moment to do something simple, yet something very meaningful—we can mourn the tragedy and honor the sacrifices of that day.