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.