A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure if he was from the house of lords
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book
– the Beatles, A Day in the Life
Walking into the office this morning I saw a granny smith apple colored green TLC taxi. It’s the first inter-borough cab I’ve come across. They didn’t exist twelve years ago. The air only smelled of burned coffee and stale piss. Twelve years ago it would have distinct cigarette tinge to it as well. I almost got run over by a bright blue Citi bike barreling down the bike lane. Neither of those existed twelve years ago. There was one of the new compost collection Dept of Sanitation trucks parked around the corner. It too didn’t exit twelve years ago. I looked out the window of my building and saw on the southern tip of Manhattan the Freedom Tower peeking over the skyline. It wasn’t there twelve years ago either.
Much has changed. In my life. In New York City. In the United States. In the world.
Some of it for the better. Some not so much.
What always bothers me every year about the reflections of 11 September 2001 is the division that still exists. We as, as my social network, as a City, as a Nation and within at least the rational, “free” world fool(ed) ourselves into coming together in the wake of the tragedy as “one people.” We espoused how this was a human tragedy and that despite our differences in political alignment, our educational level, our social strata, our income level and source of wealth, our ethnicity, our religious and philosophical beliefs, etc. that we were one-in-the-same; a collective melting pot of assimilation to the affects of the terror attacks.
I’m not saying the sentiment wasn’t a nice one. It was a necessary facade to be placed over our grieving and frustration in the moment. It just wasn’t true. It still isn’t true, no matter how much we try to tell ourselves otherwise. There is a difference between those at Ground Zero, at the Pentagon, at the field in Pennsylvania and those who where just within the proximity of the events and furthermore those who simply watched the events play out, often with a delay, on the television complete with overdubbed commentary. There is a difference being yourself or knowing personally someone directly involved in the chaos within the New York and DC metropolitan areas and empathizing with it from some other perspective. There is a difference in how religion, ethnicity and political affiliation among others played a role in how you viewed, coped with and now remember the events of the day. To deny these things is an injustice to the facts and demonstrates the collective ignorance we chose to have about the Human Condition.
Collectively we can’t help ourselves but to look on at some of what’s happened. Yet we look away just as quickly in others.
By trying to mask over the harsh realities of xenophobia that swept over the perceived innocence of the nation at the time (and continues to play a very stark role in the great social experiment of our democratic republic) we miss an opportunity to become better individuals, better citizens of our Nation and better human beings within the world. We allow fear to continue to stoke at the embers of hatred and tear at the social fabric. We lose sight of making the world a better place because it requires working together as a collective society for a common goal.
The usual argument is among differing interpretations of the word “better.” It’s a subjective, ambiguous and self-defined term and thus complicates the problem of coming together as a society because of the dissension defining the goal creates.
The thing is, there are no correct answers in this social conundrum. There very well may be inherently wrong ones but there are no absolute right ones.
Last year, I mused lightly on the need to overcome, not just as a society but as people.
What I’ve learned over the last twelve years since my own experience witnessing first hand the affects of the attack from my workplace in New Jersey just across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan is that the best I can do is to focus on myself.
I am not conceited or self-centered in this endeavor. In the twelve years since the event I realize the only variable in life I actually have control over is my own self-perception and thus how it relates to my world view. I chose in the wake of tragedy to live an inspired life for myself. Sometimes I struggle with this. Sometimes I am successful. Always, it is an ambition without end.
This kind of self-realization exercise is important in the prospect of being the best human being, the best citizen of the world that I can be which, in turn promotes the kind of generosity, empathy and love that is needed for society as a whole to function best. This isn’t an exercize in “me” in the sense that it’s all about solely a better life for me, it’s about improving who I am at the most fundamental levels as it relates to the entire ecosystem of life I exist in. It is not allowing myself to be the weak link, not allowing myself to forget my role in the world.
There are lots of “never forget” moments in the history of the United States. The beginnings, and ends, of wars. The assassination of Presidents and the massacre of civilians (in schools, and movie theatres and college campuses to name but a few) and joyous celebrations of national accomplishment. The triumphs of equality and the tragedies of internment camps, segregation and profiling.
How many do we collectively remember? Do we remember the Day of Infamy some 70 years later? Do we really comprehend it’s impact still?
It’s a notion I personally struggle with and one I work hard to better understand. In striving to understanding the past, beyond the propaganda of the time, beyond the revisionist history, beyond the varying interpretations I find I learn a lot about myself. The reflection of other’s lives past, of society past, and particularly of my own past I am forced to look more closely at myself and how I compare. What qualities I am glad I possess. What limitations I have. What issues I cope with that are recurrent in the history of not only this Nation or within the context of humanity as a whole but of my own self. How I’ve changed and what those changes mean.
11 September 2012 provided me an opportunity to be self-reflective. At my age when it happened I was at a turning point of self-definition. I was a few years into my career. I was a few years into a committed relationship. I was a few years into my post-undergraduate education. I was a few years into my adult life and at a time when many of my friends we making the transition from being self-indulgent, party-focused, I too was taking the early steps of an introspective look to who I was. I don’t remember having a well defined notion of how to go about this at the time but I know looking back the turning point in my journey is clearly a pivot in strategy in the wake of the terror attacks.
So rather than finding myself mired in the muck of daily trials and tribulation of the Human Condition turning away at the larger reality that is my life, I can’t help but to stop and look. At this point, twelve years later, I am glad I have. If nothing else, I define myself as a better person for it.