There Is No Wrong Way to Remember 9/11

The flags are coming down. The candles, snub-nosed and soot-stained, are ready for the trash. Today, just a day after the 10th anniversary of the attack of September 11th, Americans are returning to their normal lives, perhaps a little melancholy, but ready to put the images behind them…until next year.

I chose not to participate in any of yesterday’s ceremony and for that, I took a lot of heat. Any American capable of feeling was deeply impacted by 9/11. I was no exception. Earlier that year, I lived just across the Hudson River from the Twin Towers. They were a sight as familiar to me as mountains in my home state of Colorado. I, like all Americans, took for granted that they would always be there. I worked in Manhattan and like thousands of others, rode the train to the towers several times a week.

I left the area in March of that year, taking with me the tough shell acquired by navigating the streets of Manhattan. I remember when the planes hit, well maybe not that moment, exactly, because I was walking my puppy. I remember walking by a newspaper stand. I heard airplanes and helicopters above my head. The helicopters were nothing new. I lived near a hospital with a heliport. But this was something different. I could feel it in my soul.

I stopped by my usual coffee shop for my fix. An old fashioned transistor radio was playing. The first plane had hit.

I drove to work, presumably in shock. By the time I got there, the second plane hit the tower and the Pentagon had been hit. My coworkers glanced my way. They knew that New York was my other home. Perhaps they thought I might have some insight. Of course, I didn’t. At that moment, all I could do was feel. The part of my brain that was responsible for logic and reason shut down. I dropped my shell. Like a naked hermit crab, I felt exposed, vulnerable. I can’t remember exactly when I broke down, but I did.

Then, another emotion began to take over…guilt. Despite having left the area six months earlier, I felt like I had narrowly escaped the attack, leaving friends behind to suffer the consequences. I tried calling and not surprisingly, I wasn’t able to get through. I later found that my friends and family were safe, but I will never know about acquaintances, those whose names are long forgotten.

After that horrible day, for days, weeks and even months, we were shown a constant barrage of the burning buildings. We were shown images of people jumping from 100 floors up, never knowing if they were seeking safety or simply a quicker death than one of burning flesh. Many of the survivors of 9/11, including witnesses, suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that will most likely stay with them through the remainder of their lives. The televised images following the attack gave birth to a whole new batch of PTSD sufferers.

While the rest of the country grieved, George Bush and his administration saw opportunity. They saw the country’s collective state of shock and anger as a chance to “nation build.” Their targets were Iraq and Afghanistan, and if they had their way, Iran and Pakistan would have been close behind. Naomi Klein, in her book, “Shock Doctrine,” brilliantly details the methods and the reasons. In short, the Republican party won’t rest until there is a McDonalds on every corner and a Halliburton in every bunker.

As September 11th turned from a time of togetherness to an opportunity for manipulation, Americans began to divide. One sector of the country, mostly conservatives, sought revenge. Another sector, mostly progressives, sought answers. Of course, we never found answers. And until the Obama administration captured and killed Osama bin Laden, we didn’t find revenge.

3000 people died as a direct result of 9/11. Countless others have died as an indirect result. Soldiers, fighting in futile wars, came home battered, beaten and torn, if they came home at all. Our country has been there for them in spirit, but in reality, they have been left to suffer without care and often, without jobs. First responders that died later, as a result of that day, were not memorialized. Those that suffer illnesses and injuries from the towers are left alone. They are forgotten by the vast majority of the country and more significantly, by the lawmakers that can help relieve them from medically-induced poverty.

If Americans really cared about 9/11, we would address the suffering. We would rebuild the gaping hole within ground zero. We would stop letting the terrorists win by allowing them to fill our hearts with terror and our souls with hate. But, Americans did yesterday what Americans do best. We alleviated our sense of responsibility with symbolic gestures of patriotism and religion.

The way I choose to remember September 11th is not through flags or candles. It is not to relive the trauma through watching recycled news reports or documentaries on a single day, 10 years later. It is through fighting for ALL of the victims of 9/11, no matter what their experience and no matter how slight the impact. If that makes me the wrong kind of patriot, then so be it. I am the wrong kind of patriot, but it is how I sleep at night.