Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How Not to Remember 9/11


If you don’t feel like reading this, I understand.

I’m one of those people who sought to avoid all media coverage on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I stayed off the Internet. No radio. The only television I watched was the Giants-Redskins game but I purposefully tuned in late to be sure that I missed the pregame ceremonies. Not interested.

It’s not that I’m denial of the significance of 9/11. I certainly recognize the importance of remembrance, of communal ceremony and the need of individuals to react and express themselves (as I’m doing here), to share their memories and derive meaning from the day when the world, and everything we thought we knew about it, changed forever. And then there are the young people. College freshmen were 8 years old when we were attacked. Junior high school students have no memory of 9/11 at all. Education, commemoration and healing are all legitimate reasons for public ceremony and the sharing of memories.

But I’m a New Yorker. I don’t have a New York City address anymore but I did for ten years. In 2001, I lived in Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan. Nothing about the stories, memories and reflections of other people – even the poignant accounts of family members of victims - can make that day any more vivid or meaningful for me. I don’t begrudge anyone who wishes to partake in the ceremonies or to immerse themselves in the sea of media coverage. For some, this public sharing of various emotions – grief, anger, inspiration, pride – is cathartic and lends meaning to their remembrance of the day. But it’s not for everyone.

I ignored the media coverage not to escape memory or pain, but to avoid the inevitable preaching. I have no wish to be reminded to “never forget.” For me, as for most New Yorkers, the notion that such a message might even be necessary borders on the absurd. No public ceremony or public interest story can have a greater impact on me than the simple act of pausing for a moment outside of a New York City fire station or my countless glimpses of the vacant skyline. But I also wanted to avoid the baggage - the fetishizing of 9/11 by the media, the messaging of politicians and even the many well-meaning folks who regard 9/11 as a bumper sticker. (You have Facebook friends who do this – you know you do).

Here’s what I also wanted to avoid:

• Public squabbling over who should and who shouldn’t be taking part in the ceremony at Ground Zero.

• Anti-war protesters who utilize such occasions to condemn the killing of civilians by the U.S. military.

• Mawkish sentimentality.

• Politicians.

• Clergy.

• The bashing of George W. Bush and the praising of Barack Obama.

• The bashing of Barack Obama and the praising of George W. Bush.

• The crackpots who would have us believe that 9/11 was an “inside job.”

• The crackpots who would have us believe that 9/11 is the prelude to “The Rapture.”

• The debate over the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

I’m opposed to the effort to have 9/11 designated an official national holiday. Here’s one reason why (it’s an obvious one, but it’s one that people don’t like to talk about): What are we going to do the next time we are attacked? What if it’s worse? Will we create more holidays?

And do we really honor the memory of the victims by closing down businesses and government offices? I don’t think so. We run the risk of turning 9/11 into a sort of national religion where your individual patriotism is measured by your public display of 9/11 piety – essentially by the kind of show you put on. Or we might go to the opposite extreme and extend the summer season with another 3-day weekend, marking the occasion with family picnics, long weekends at the beach and scheduling of sporting events. Both scenarios – the sacred and the profane - strike me as distasteful.

What should we do? People need to remember and mark the occasion in their own way. But if it were up to me (and it is) here’s what I will do on 9/11 in the future. If I feel compelled to tune in or participate in a ceremony or moment of silence, it will be a short and dignified one. I will call my loved ones. I will take a few minutes out of the day to reflect on what was lost on that day and think about the things that matter most. And then get back to it.


1 comment:

jwharding28 said...

I guess the fact that I'm posting this now shows how long I've been away. Sorry.

Terrific post. Count me as one who tuned in, at least a little bit. For the first time, I spent some real time watching the reading of the names. For some reason, it resonated more this time around.

There's far too much litmus-testing going on in our society in general. Did he wear his flag pin? Did he mention God in his Thanksgiving speech? And of course, 9/11 has become part of it. Nobody who lived through that day can possibly forget. But that's not stopping some from using the memory of the day as a launching pad for praising themselves for being More Patriotic Than Thou.

Talk about profane.