I had some difficulty forming this piece–missed my deadline trying to make it make sense, and I’m still not sure I’ve succeeded, to my or anyone’s satisfaction. I’m not quite comfortable with it, but then neither the subject matter nor the reflections about it are comfortable, either. Going out on a limb and publishing it anyway…please read and comment with an open mind.
It’s eleven years later and we observe another remembrance of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. I’ve always had trouble with grasping the enormity of the impact that day’s events had on the whole country, and not being what I feel is “appropriately sad.” I even mused on it in a Facebook note years ago:
I always feel bad that I don’t care more about 9/11. Now that I don’t CARE, mind you–I’m not that heartless. But on that morning my boyfriend and I were having an argument when his female best friend (and one of the bones of contention for said argument) called to tell him about the first hit to the towers. I didn’t realize the severity of things to come (much like in ’86 when the Challenger exploded and it was made to sound like everyone got out until I got home and watched what was supposed to be our soap opera tape and discovered otherwise, but I digress….), so I wanted to finish the argument. Through all of the tragedy that is the one outstanding memory I have of that day.
So, I thought I would address my FB friends through the WTPD page by posing this question:
I apologize in advance if this sounds cold or callous in any way. The one vivid memory that has stayed on my mind from 11 years ago is that I was having a major blowout with my then-boyfriend when he got a call (from a friend who was a major part of said argument) to turn on the TV. I realize the enormity of what went down and the impact these events have had on families, friends, co-workers and all of us as a nation–and am truly sympathetic and respectful of that. But I’m not as traumatically affected as I see everyone else. Every story is personal, and some more personal than others….is it possible to be compassionate but not impacted? Speak on it.
Nothing on that post, but later on, I saw this post from a friend of mine:
James Joseph Maumus:
So I go to the doc’s office this morning for my routine stuff. The woman drawing my blood (in her late 50’s I suppose) asks me if I am a firefighter because I have my FDNY cap on. I say no, I just wear it every 9/11. She says “I just don’t know why people need to keep remembering this day.” Ahem… I say “well it’s just like my grandparents who commemorated December 7th every year.” She says “what happened on that day?”
People, THIS is what I’m talking about! Ignorance of our history will be our downfall.
A good catalyst for the dialogue I was trying to spark. So I cautiously crafted my response, which produced the following exchange:
ME: Don’t shoot–I sometimes wonder the same thing, though not to the degree it appears this woman did. Not that I don’t feel that we shouldn’t remember, but to what degree and how much one should feel affected. Posed the question on my blog’s FB page and have to try and finish the actual entry before today is over.
MAUMUS: It’s a good question, Nicole. I think we should remember, not only those who perished, but those who tried to save others and perished themselves (hence my FDNY cap). In addition, we need to remember who did this and and why. And that’s where opinions diverge. There are lots of people out there who think 9/11 was an “inside job”. In fact, many actually still think GW Bush was behind it! Those people are even more ignorant than the woman I experienced this morning. Now, do we need to go overboard with the tributes and such? No, and in fact I think today’s activities are too much. But, we still need to recognize that there are many people around the world who hate us for many reasons. Some of us believe that they are justified in their hate (I am not one of those btw), while most still believe that we are still the greatest experiment in a country ever performed by mankind. But one thing I cannot stand is the “9/10” mentality of so many, who couldn’t care less about history or what has happened in the course of our lives. They only care about who wins the next American Idol or what crazy thing Nicki Minaj has done. And, these days, there are way too many of those people around.
“Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.” It is not just a passing phrase. It is our future if we are not careful.
ME: Appreciate that, Maumus. Mind if I quote you?
Comparing 9/11 and Katrina is apples and oranges, but I know some who will strenuously observe one and dismiss the other. Also, it’s much easier to deeply empathize and feel the impact of an event if you’ve been through it personally or know someone who has. Hearing a lot of the 9/11 stories (the woman embarking on a new business who had a breakfast meeting in the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the Trade Center, the United 93 takedown, the Frasier producer and his wife who were on one of the flights that crashed into the Towers, and others) helps you to understand; walking into a house with deep black mold and water lines above your head makes you feel it. I can’t say that’s the same shell-shocked feeling that those New Yorkers covered in ash and soot had on that day, but that kind of gut-level reaction does make the enormity of a day like this all the more real.
MAUMUS: Good point. The people of NY and DC and PA, as well as the families of those on the planes all have a much different reaction to today than those of us who may have only been indirectly affected. But, the same holds true for August 29th for the rest of the country. Then again, we had see the horrors or war on newsreels from far away lands long ago, but this was the first time OUR civilians were getting killed on OUR own soil (in our lifetime, at least). And, contrary to what others may think, those civilians were DELIBERATELY targeted (and weren’t collateral damage…which of course brings up a whole different argument for a different time). So the reactions of many are much more visceral.
So I perused post after post and came across some very detailed prose from my friend William Frederick Cooper, whose reflections on Whitney Houston I posted earlier this year…and whose four-part reflections on 9/11 I hope to bring you soon. Hearing this first-hand account does bring home the overwhelming sense of helplessness of ordinary people unexpectedly thrust into a horrible situation–trapped in a bad movie that was unfortunately all too real.
I can’t say that any large-watt light bulbs went off for me, but I think I have a better idea of the throughline between the soot and the black mold. Though I have never been one to dwell on the somber, I do reverence and respect those who needlessly lost their lives trying to save others, trying to re-take another plane intended for vicious attack, or just trying to go about their daily lives. Perhaps this sentiment from Vice-President Joe Biden says it best: