Nine-Eleven

I think we’re supposed to talk about that day today. In some ways I get that — it was a giant tent spike through the heart of this country. On the other hand, there’s only so much memorializing you can do before it becomes a sickening buzz — the television stations are not our grief counselors but rather the vultures pulling the tendons of our fear, earning ad revenue for bludgeoning us over the head with non-stop 24/7 9/11 remembering. Talking heads telling us how to feel.

Remembering is good, though. Celebration isn’t, but that’s up to us not to turn this into some kind of crass holiday. Point being, I wasn’t going to write anything. And yet, here I am, barking into the void.

You want to know what I remember about 9/11? Here’s what I remember.

I remember driving to work in the middle of town and listening to the radio as it all unfolded. By the time I was getting to work the second plane had already struck.

The entire town was connected that day — as I got out of my car and walked to work I could literally follow the transmission of information. Some people had put radios outside. Some were yelling to one another to tell them what they just heard on the TV. Folks were standing out on sidewalks talking about it. People were bound together in tragedy. (And given what we eventually learned about 9/11, that our leaders had heard the warnings and ignored them, this is tragedy in the truest theatrical sense of the word.) I thought, this is our Kennedy assassination. This is that one moment that defines our generation. The one we’ll always talk about, the one we’ll always feel in our heart and in our bowels and the one we’ll always say, “I remember where I was on that day, when that horrible thing happened.”

And what I remember most is that connection between people.

And how for a good year, we were united in that memory and that experience. We were united in anger and hope and fear and that whole tangled thatch of emotion that came with the two towers tumbling down.

And I remember how that connection festered and was pulled apart. Because our leaders, instead of unifying us, found in that day opportunity. Opportunity to take us to war in that day’s name. Opportunity to pass legislation whose strictures were absurd and whose ghosts still haunt the so-called “homeland.” Opportunity to invoke that day as a campaign slogan.

Opportunity to divide, not unite.

You really think who we are as a nation now — a nation with boots stuck in the sucking mud of a double-dip recession, caught in the middle of a highly disordered and fractured two-party pissing match, afraid of anybody who looks even a leetle bit different than us or who worships in a way that seems no longer profound but only somehow perfidious — isn’t as a result of that day? Where we can’t bring a bottle of shampoo on a plane lest it contain some exotic-and-fragrant shampoo bomb? Where the specter of terrorism overrides the political needs of far greater crises?

I feel like the country went the wrong way after that day. Our leaders could’ve fostered that connectedness and instead exploited the disconnect. And in that gap rose a howling fearful wind.

But that’s them. That’s our leaders. That’s not us.

We are not our leaders. Not anymore.

The message here is that the connectedness we felt then can be reclaimed. As a weird side segue, would you believe that this is why I like social media? The sense of connectedness is robust and even at times profound (see the latest earthquake and hurricane for that, where I felt connected to people who I didn’t even know, who were hundreds of miles away — hell, see Egypt, or London for how people can bond together — the core notion of the Internet is connectedness, after all).

We need to move together, not fall apart. We need to find the bonds that bring us together and make us human, not highlight all the bullshit differences that take our humanity away.

That’s the thing I’d hope people remember today. The solidarity of the nation in that year following 9/11. A time when it felt like we were all in the same boat. Find that again. Trust in your neighbors, not in your leaders. We’re coming to a time once more when we will somehow need to remind our leaders that they must be accountable to us, not us accountable to them. The day of 9/11 is ours, not theirs.

They fear our connectedness, after all. As they should. Our ideas and connections have the power to change the world. That terrifies them. So be connected. Forge the connection with others once more. Talk to people. People you don’t always agree with. Common bonds exist; find them. When we find those things we can move forward again. We can find the things we believe are essential and work to accomplish them. We must not be led by a corrupt body of leadership or by a vocal minority of selfish monsters. We must reforge lost connections. That is how we can once more find truth and hope in a day like 9/11.

28 comments

  • I remember thinking on 9/11 that I would always remember this with such clarity, how could I not. But thankfully, that day is blurring to me. (I worked at United Airlines in Boston, flight 175 was ours.)

    But the rest of your post – I have one amazing memory of 9/11. A few weeks afterwards, my friend and I went to NYC. While we were walking, a firetruck rolled by. I still get chills as I think about what happened. Everyone came running out of their storefronts, their houses. People pulled their cars over and got out. People swarmed the streets to watch the fire truck go by, clapping and crying and cheering all at the same time. An impromptu parade that continued for as far as I could see the truck go. Believe me, my roommate and I were cheering and crying and clapping also.

    It was beautiful.

  • I hate that what I remember is my own rage. It disgusts me that I flipped on the TV this morning and felt it all over again.
    I’d like to say that the feeling that the felling that we were all connected, that we were a COUNTRY for the first time in my life, that we were One People, is what is the most lasting effect from that day, but it’s not.
    It’s the rage and the fear. We were a nation founded on freedoms and hope, and that’s been wiped away by “securing our borders,” full body x-ray scans, and firing missiles into caves to “protect our freedom.”
    Rage and fear as we circle the drain.

  • “We are not our leaders. Not anymore.”
    We never were.
    A lot of people were united. They were united in blood lust. They were united in a two-minute hate stretched over years. They were united in in a fervent cry of relief: “Finally, we have an enemy again!”
    I’m not a truther. I stipulate that 9/11 was primarily the fault of the jerks on the planes. But the first word I thought when I say the TV was “Reichstag.” I believe it was worked out that way. Enormous power has been seized, by members of both parties, and has never been given back. And these people were not working in an echo chamber. Every bloody pulpit had thousands cheering before it.
    And now, years later, trillions wasted, and hundreds of thousands dead, we regret. We say we were misled. We swear this will never happen again. We will be better.
    Until the next time. And yes, there will be a next time.

  • Great post Chuck, you said it. Community and love of my city has suddenly burst forth here over the Atlantic, a post-riot-renaissance. And yes there was a few days where we all donned black uniforms and demanded the death penalty for anyone who had so much as spat at the Apple Shop, but soon after we were all sweeping up together and taping boards over the broken windows of Manchester. Yes the post-9/11 era could have gone a differently – better – and I agree with you, we have a global community now linked with social media, websites, blogs etc. My government can’t tell me something without me going online and saying hey, is that true are (for instance) all pakistani’s out to murder us? to which some joilly Pakistani Elvis impersonator (for example) would pop up and say, hey brother, no way!

  • Unity, strength in the face of fear.
    I didn’t want to write about it either, but I did.

    Barking into the void, huh? I have this ridiculous image, of 101 Dalmatians, where the dogs howl to spread the word.
    It’s another kind of unity.

  • Chuck, I have loved reading all your post, but this one is by far the most moving one I’ve read. What you wrote, is exactly as it is. Better words could not be written. Excellent post!

  • Well, said. I noticed, too, how for months after the tragedy we (Americans) were all nicer to each other. We said hello more often and helped out strangers when in all likelihood, we never would have prior.

    It floors me we are not united as often as we should be. We need to get back to that unification.

    Thank you very much for a thought provoking post.

    Darlene

  • This is a beautiful post that crystallizes exactly how I feel about today. This is a day to mourn how so many people died and how for a little while, we were more connected, more caring and giving. This is not a day to overload us with pap and sentimentality and LIES about what our country is and what it should be. I look at the thousands of tributes and appropriations going on today, and I remember that today is also my stepfather’s birthday. Humanity is what matters here.

  • Chuck, the first part of this is what I would have written, if I was smart enough, and good enough.
    The second part I couldn’t have connected. I wish I could. That was right on. There was a time when we identified with our leaders–an “us and them” mentality. I think it peaked during World War II and left us sometime between the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War.
    We have more in common with other people in the world than we think we do–The majority of Iranians are good people who are both unhappy with and fearful of their leadership.
    Why do you think politicians spend most of their campaign efforts trying to identify with voters? Because a career politician with handlers and advisers who started out their adult life in campaigns and worked their way into office and have never held a real job have no idea whatsoever what the real America is like.
    The real America knows that our system is fucked up, but it’s still the best system. The real America knows we aren’t perfect. The real America is diverse, but not in a PC way. The real America knows Political correctness is bullshit. The real America works hard. The real America struggles to pay their bills. The real America polishes its resume. The real America goes to school and tries harder. The real America fails from time to time, and learns from its mistakes. The real America wants to trust people, and give them the benefit of the doubt. The real America has been burnt by bad relationships, and is occasionally wary. The real America accepts you for what you are, even with your quirks and failings.

    The real America wants its leaders to be a reflection of them, instead of the other way around.
    For better or worse, God bless America.

  • I had a job in Manhattan then. Luckily I didn’t go in that day. Watched it unfold, and saw the island on fire like the smoke in a condemned man’s mouth before a firing squad for months.
    The fear changed me for five years. Then the shame changed me back.
    We are a better people than this. We should not live in fear.

  • A big Hallelujah coming from the Amen pew. I believe this is the most tolerant and welcoming country in the world, but someone forgot to tell most politicians and about 20% of the population. Sure, we got problems but most of them will eventually be addressed when all diversions have failed.

    I was talking to a colleague and we agreed that the big problem with America is that it’s already built. There are no Hoover Dams, NYC Skyscrapers or Moon Landings to inspire pride in our young. Terrorism wasn’t enough to unite us, because you can’t stab a technique in the heart. We only have scares. Terror Scares. Brown Scares. Pink Scares.

    Maybe we do need an Independence Day type alien invasion to unite us as one people. Let’s plow the road!

    http://barelyok.com/please-dont-ask-me-where-i-was.html

  • Sorry, but I think you missed it with this one.

    We get the leaders we ask for. And what we ask for, mostly, is someone to assure us that it’s Not Our Fault. The problem is never Us, but always Them, whether we think that They are brown-skinned people wearing turbans, or rednecks carrying rifles, or investment bankers, or the political class. They are always the Other that we despise and oppose, and all of our problems are Their fault. We are never to blame. It’s always Them.

    Ever since 9/11, we’ve gotten exactly what we asked for: someone to blame.

  • Paradoxically, I agree with both Chuck and JS Bangs.

    I was a kid on a military base overseas when 9/11 happened. Imagine the level of freakout, both from the community in general and kids whose parents might be called up to go fight. Surprisingly, the one Afgani kid in my school wasn’t bullied or ostracized; other kids were actually curious to know what his mother’s country was really like.

  • “I feel like the country went the wrong way after that day. Our leaders could’ve fostered that connectedness and instead exploited the disconnect. And in that gap rose a howling fearful wind.”

    Yes, yes, and YES. I hate to say it, but the more I consider how our leaders have responded to that event, and the jingoistic nationalism that developed afterwards (wherein dissent was equated with treason) I see elements of fascism threading itself through our government and the words of leaders who are supposedly “mainstream.” People who divide, who say “they hate us for our freedom,” who say, “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists,” fuel emotional responses based in fear, not reason.

    The people have to show that they still have that power. We have to stop being scared. We don’t need to give up our liberties for “protection.” We don’t need to be scared into submission, whether it comes to war or even economic terrorism (as in the economic scare that led to the bank bailouts).

    This is our country. We are here. We will be heard.

  • “They fear our connectedness, after all. As they should. Our ideas and connections have the power to change the world. That terrifies them.”

    There is a reason why there is so much recent concentrated effort to regulate, control and wall-off the internet. In the name of “security against Cyber-terrorism” and “Piracy.”

    First they tried to scare us away, telling us that the internet was filled with child predators and identity thieves. When that didn’t work, they stopped trying to be subtle about it. Now they openly discuss “kill switches” and demonize the idea of Net Neutrality.

    …and, mark my words — they’ll get away with it. Again.

  • “…the television stations are not our grief counselors but rather the vultures pulling the tendons of our fear, earning ad revenue for bludgeoning us over the head with non-stop 24/7 9/11 remembering. Talking heads telling us how to feel.”

    Quoted for truth.

  • I was not in nine eleven but it sounds so sad I feel so bad for all those people that lost someone or something special . The people in that town were so brave to be in that town epically if they were working in that building

    God bless them and their familys

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