Thoughts On September 11th That I Didn’t Finish Writing Until September 12th

I don’t know how to treat September 11th. It’s officially Patriot Day. Which is definitely easier on the calendar than it’s original name: Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001

I know how to mark Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Veterans Day. There are people we can thank. Or founding principles we can discuss. And fireworks.

But 9/11 is different. I don’t have anyone around me to thank because I live in Virginia. And exactly a year after the attacks, my husband and I went on our first date. So, to put it mildly, my emotions are mixed today.

I remember Scott and I discussing where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001, which is an awesomely intense conversation for a first date. Since he easily kept up, I should’ve known we’d be married fourteen months later. (Oh and turns out our wedding anniversary is the 40th anniversary of JFK’s assignation. I kinda expected our first child to be born on the anniversary of Columbine. Or Timothy McVeigh’s birthday.)

I remember eating Thanksgiving dinner in Windows on the World, a restaurant on the top floors of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. The line to the elevator was long. And the ride up took my entire teenage life. The view was lovely but I wouldn’t get over the idea of Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant. It felt wrong. And slightly embarrassing. I had slept through the Macy’s Day parade that morning in protest of being in New York City instead of attached at the hip to my friends in Connecticut.

Who knew, six years later, I would cherish that memory so much.

Those months after the attacks I felt like our country came together. But in the subsequent years I watched the event tear at the fabric of the America that I love.

I began to understand why countries who suffer from these attacks on a monthly or even yearly basis become hardened and hateful. I only have to remember the Guantanamo Bay detainees to see how much the ideals of my country have suffered.

I have never felt unsafe in these last nine years. Although I hadn’t felt particularly unsafe before 9/11 either.

But I now carry this expectation that it will happen again. I am no longer surprised when I hear about a car bombing or hostage situation, but I am shocked that the authorities have been able to thwart it.

I find my expectation sad. To be resigned to a new way of living is depressing. Maybe that’s why I’ve written so many letters and given so much money to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. I don’t want to be changed so much that I am afraid of our own justice system. Of own ideals. Afraid of the non-American. Which drifts too closely into fearing the un-American.

If you have not read Just Asking by David Foster Wallace, you should. His first paragraph asks what must be asked:

Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life–sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

So maybe my expectation is no longer sad. My reaction no longer strange.

Maybe I am merely embracing the dangers of freedom while fighting to keep my freedom intact.

I don’t know.

I still remember. I still care.

So I offer up a prayer for the victims, families, and friends. And for my country.

And call it a night.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

12 thoughts to “Thoughts On September 11th That I Didn’t Finish Writing Until September 12th”

  1. I still have my hubby’s invitation to the conference at windows of the world on 9/11. (The conference no one got out of alive.) He had decided a few weeks before not to attend seeing as he had a conference in Vegas the weekk before and he couldn’t go to them all. (Good thing eh?) He was in the city on 9/11 but thankfully in midtown not downtown.

  2. This post is an accomplishment – such genuine remembrances of sad and happy memories; sad and happy anniversaries. I don’t have a particularly sweet memory to mark Sept. 11 with, but I have wonderful memories of the buildings and of New York when they were there – and I have worries and resignations about things that have happened since they fell. I’m glad you wrote about this, yesterday and today.

    1. Thank you. Your kind words mean a lot. It took me all day to write in my head and then rewrite on the computer and then have the courage to tweet or facebook about it.

      I like remembering the World Trade Center as a building not just an attack too.

    1. Have you read The Looming Tower by L. Wright? It’s about the lead up to radical islam and the 9/11 attacks. The first 2/3rds are fascinating and the last 1/3rd is about how the FBI missed all the clues and that part is meh.

      Do you think that dismantling the system is possible? I sometimes wonder if the US was just lucky to stay out of the fray for as long as we had. So many countries suffer this way so often. (Now THAT is a pessimistic thought)

      1. Education and intellectual freedom are the antithesis of religious fanaticism. There’s a reason the theocracies hate the West.

        Little by little, we will infiltrate. It can be hastened by microeconomic investment in women, children and education.

        Yes, it is possible to dismantle the system. It’s just going to take time, and investment.

  3. Hmm.. I don’t agree with Wallace when he says:

    “not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea?”

    I think, if a label is to be placed it would not be as flattering as what he depicts. If there was any “logical” basis for the attack (which there is not), it would be because America has made mistakes as the “policeman for the world.” We have neglected the Rwandans (and the Congolese?) while falsely attacking other nations with an almost purely monetary interest. If the victims were martyrs of anything, it was mainly of lunatic attacks, but lunatics who were attacking a government that was not pure in extending democracy.

    (I’m not usually very political so have probably expressed this wrong and perhaps have made some enemies)

    1. Oh don’t worry about making enemies. I think that your point is very thought-provoking and brave. I tend to be more idealistic in my vision of America. Separating our ideals from our political actions (since I see our wars as political. Since it seems to depend whose in office as to who we help or don’t help.) I’m not sure that I’m right in doing that. But otherwise, I’d move. (You up for a new neighbor ;))

  4. I sometimes think that nobody knows enough to really make a justified judgment. We all, however, like to give our opinions and we are entitled to it. That is the freedom of speech that this country preaches so openly. Nobody should be making enemies by speaking their mind, but also nobody should deliberately hurt others in speech or otherwise.
    9/11 was a very unfortunate event and lots of innocent people lost their lives, but thousands of innocent people have lost and continue to loose their lives everyday.
    9/11, I think, has become a very controversial memory. Yes, it is about remembering all those brave people who died, but it is also a constant reminder that there are people out there who allegedly want to see America on its knees. It is not all about America!!
    I am happy that I am able to live here, but this country has to take a long, hard look at itself and its attitude.
    No offense to my American friends. I love your country, but it is not infallible.

    1. I completely agree with “9/11, I think, has become a very controversial memory” — that’s why I struggled so much with writing this post. People are sensitive in a way I’m not sure that I completely understand or know how to respect without pretending to have no opinions on the subject.

      As an American friend, no offense taken.

  5. “Those months after the attacks I felt like our country came together. But in the subsequent years I watched the event tear at the fabric of the America that I love. ”

    After 9/11, I saw a glimpse, a sliver, of how united these “United” States could be. It made it all the more tragic to then witness the relentless tear. It was like watching a beautiful love story end in an acrimonious divorce.

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