Some years ago I wrote an essay that recalled my experiences on 9/11. As much as I was writing about the day’s terrorist attacks and my fears about my Mom, who then worked across the street from the World Trade Center, it was really a piece about my relationship with my brother. I was 16 then and for the previous twelve and a half years he and I had maintained a somewhat contentious relationship. But that year was the beginning of a shift for us; owing nothing to the terrorist attacks, we had started to figure out that we were stuck with each other, and that we might as well enjoy each other’s company. Happily, we’ve continued to do better in this regard since.
I’d been thinking about brushing up my old essay and reposting it today, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, but after re-reading it, I suddenly found it somewhat wanting. After all, tales of brotherly love are great and have their place, but I didn’t see the relevance to the 10th anniversary. Plus, I can only recycle the same words so many times.
So, what to write about on this momentous date? Surprisingly, or maybe not, I find that I don’t really have that much to say about it at all. Between all the coverage in the mainstream media and everyone’s lame posts on Facebook, most of the many varied sentiments about the anniversary have been covered. So, I talked to my family about it all, to get their take.
My Dad said that 9/11 was one of the worst days of his life. I don’t think it was quite at that level for me, but I was only a kid, and I didn’t (and don’t) have his perspective. So, what does someone who saw that day as singularly abhorrent think about the multitude of memorial activities on Sunday? He didn’t see any value in it. Neither, for that matter, did my Mom, who was closer to the attack than most others, having fled her office on foot when the second plane hit, eventually walking back home to Brooklyn via the Manhattan Bridge. My favorite part of the story is how she went to the other side of her building to a friend’s office to get a better view of the fire, before understanding what had happened, and what was happening. Apparently, there was never a formal order to evacuate her building.
Are my parents un-American for failing to properly grieve the dead? No, it’s not that, not at all – we all agreed that the thousands killed deserve to be memorialized, and so to the thousands of soldiers dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of whether or not you agree with those conflicts. Reading the names seems to be an important, cathartic exercise for the families of the dead, and I can’t imagine anyone would want to deny the injured their ability to grieve.
But remembering only gets us so far. Actually, it doesn’t really get us very far at all. My brother likened the whole thing to a breakup. At first you’re upset and can’t picture yourself living without the comfort of your erstwhile lover: Despite the fact that you’re no longer enjoying a physical relationship, you still exchange texts or talk on the phone. Maybe you hang out in the company of mutual friends. Eventually, though, you realize that you haven’t moved on, you haven’t been able to look at another girl, let alone contemplate dating someone else. Or, if once you’re ready to move on, you’ll still find yourself worried about what the other will think, should you start dating someone.
In his view, that’s where we’re at with 9/11 – still hung up on a tragedy that occurred a decade ago, we haven’t been able to move forward. We’re embroiled in two wars that started as a direct result of the attacks, and while one is beginning to wind down, American soldiers continue to fight and die in the other, with no real end in sight.
And what have we gained?
This past decade has arguably been one of the worst in American history. Our economy is continuing to fall apart, people are out of work in record numbers, we’re still fighting these unpopular wars, and one natural disaster after another has pummeled our country, further eroding moral. Worst of all, in my estimation, is that the nation is becoming wary of a government that is looking increasingly impotent in the face of such challenging obstacles.
What can we do? Instead of reading from the bible (a text that helped get us into this mess in the first place), I would have liked to have seen President Obama tell this nation what we need to have learned from 9/11, and to lead us in an intelligent discourse about moving forward, about mending our broken position in the world, and most importantly, about being kind to each other and to our neighbors. We are the United States, we should be a world leader that shows other nations the way with our charisma and just actions. Instead, we’re bullies incapable of discovering why we behave the way we do.
In a word, I’m saying that I would have liked our leader to show some leadership on a day that holds great importance to many Americans. I know that’s asking a lot – after all, Obama is the product of an election in which being a down-home Uhmerikan was considered an equal qualification to experience in governance – but I think we’ve earned it.
*A quick programming note: This post is coming to you from Las Vegas, where I’ve just landed ahead of the Interbike tradeshow. This is an extremely busy week for us at Bicycling, so I will be forced to suspend posting on the blog for the remainder of this week. I look forward to resuming regular posts on Sunday, Sept. 18. Have a great week!