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.