Every year I reflect on my September 11th experience. Not that I don’t think about it the other 364 days of the year. But, on the 17th anniversary it’s at the forefront of my mind again. 16 years of reflection and the process doesn’t get any easier.
I don’t need to be reminded to forget. I live with the emotional scars from witnessing it firsthand. And, I was fortunate in my experiences that day and the many following compared to many. Honestly, I do a shitty job, most of the time, at trying to act normal and deal with what should otherwise be the daily stuff of life around me.
Today wasn’t easy. And although there were some greatly trying kids being kids moments, another car (or two) related issue(s), the TV dying, and the rest of the not-so-routine-but-that-is-life things that occurred … today was, is, and always will be a tough day.
The tri-state area is constantly changing and it’s pretty often I run across people who weren’t in the area during the terrorist attacks. They recall the TV images and newspaper headlines and their own whereabouts when they found out much as I remember my parents talking about where they were when JFK was shot or how I retell my own story from the day the Challenger exploded mid-flight. I try to be respectful of their recollections as everyone was attacked that day, not just NYC.
Although deep down I know that the anxiety they felt was a completely different. The fear was different. The depression was different. Proximity both physically to the events and emotionally to those even more directly affected than I was insist upon making it different. The TV cameras only caught fleeting glimpses of what it was like to witness it first hand and you cannot unsee those things that only you saw with your own eyes. You cannot unsmell the smells. You cannot untouch the aftermath. It’s the reality of how the mind and body internalize the full range of senses. And, then I remind myself PTSD isn’t a competition. It’s the sad reality we all as Americans who were alive in that moment could feel.
What’s even crazier, though, is I increasingly come across people who were too young, if even born, to remember it. They know only of the TV footage. And, unlike those people who lived it through the raw documentation of the day, what they know of the footage is the sanitized, made-for-TV movie version of it that’s been distributed since the Bush-era propaganda took root.
For better or worse, much of the nation is remembering 9/11 via a collective memory. One that we, as a nation, have created for ourselves out of a hodgepodge of sources. One that is reflective as much of those who weren’t there as it was of ones who were. One that is a reflection of a world dominated by post-script analysis and talking heads opining as it is of first hand stories. One that is reflective of partisan subjugation of Americanism as much as it is of those who put aside their collective differences inside of the most diverse area of the US to do more for each other in our time of need.
I’ve said it before, it sucks that the one time of year that New York City is part of America is when this anniversary comes up. Otherwise, it and the surrounding tri-state, as well as DC and to a lesser degree PA, are derided as cesspools (sorry, that would be the simpler “sewers” or “swamps”) of liberals (sorry, “libtards”). Worse, even on the anniversary, despite this national attempt at forced unity, the region(s) aren’t without their negative critiques from so-called “real America” as even the current partisan President broke with the national unity tradition to slitter into that approach.
This is, of course, despite the region’s contribution to the greater good of what America was, is and will become. And, how much of the great stories of unity and American identity originate from the NYC, NJ/CT/HVNY, DC/DMV, PA regions. Much like the memories of WWII, from the Auschwitz to Pearl Harbor, from Normandy to Hiroshima, have become part of American folklore and legend they’ve also become part conspiracy theory and denial three quarters of a century later, now we’re seeing less than a quarter century into our collective experience the unfortunate diluting the lessons of 9/11 coupled with the furthering of lie filled theories and asinine conspiracy laden opinions.
The undermining of what 9/11 was I guess is the most disheartening part of reliving it every year for me. It talk about it less and less in my daily life not because time itself has passed for me or I’ve become any more comfortable with it that it not longer impacts me in the same way, but, in part, because of all the noise that has taken up residence around the history of it overall. I long ago got tired of and then got over the idea that someone watching it on TV thought that was the same as being here and experiencing planes impact and towers fall and people evacuate and the interruptions to daily life that lasted days, weeks, months and even years after. I long ago got tired of and then got over the idea that people had a hard time relating to my first hand experiences and personal memories of the day, and weeks, and months, and years that followed.
I’ll be honest though, I haven’t gotten over the jackassary of people who call themselves Americans undermining what it means to be American by deriding NY while wanting to honor it.
And, I haven’t gotten over the jackassary of people who call themselves Americans and yet actively politically support and vote for partisan hacks who have sought to undermine 911 victims and their families, sought to undermine support for survivors and first responders, sought to undermine the region’s need for improvements in infrastructure, in prevention, in first response, and more. The votes against more Federal money and resources, more autonomy (at the city, state and regional level) to do undertake these tasks when Federal resources aren’t immediately available, and otherwise votes against the underlying American identity of the tri-state area as a punishment by the Republican led 114-115th United States Congress and Republican President.
And, I haven’t gotten over the jackassary of people who call themselves Americans and yet only subscribed to being American if you “stand for the flag” despite the fact that the act of protest is inherently American and that the idea of honoring the Constitution means recognizing inequality and confronting it. The people that insist their definition of being American is the only possible one having usurped the idea of America for their own authoritarian led police state ideal.
And, I haven’t gotten over the jackassary of people who call themselves Americans and yet only care about Vets, or those in active service, or pretty much anyone involved with any aspect of the military or first responders when it’s convenient to selective outrage and yet don’t do enough to support the needs of military and first responder personnel outside of waving flags and singing anthems as a counter-protest to legit protests. These people gave their lives for all of us in honor of the Constitution, quit playing lip service to the service they provide including the one they did for NYC, DC and PA and the nation in the aftermath that is all too quickly overlooked for a quick quazipolitical “stand now” type statements just like it wasn’t defined to those that actually lived through the chaos of 911 by the flag itself despite all those that flew. We lit candles in solidarity too and it felt just as American. Some of us stood in the dark, looked into the distance, looked into our hearts, looked at one another, and it was American. We gathered around nothing more than a piece of asphalt that had neither stars nor stripes and knew we were American. We sang songs that were’t the “Star Spangled Banner” in solidarity including other national hymns, secular folk songs, popular music and more and knew we were American. We wept together without having to stand, or salute, or recite anything to know we were American. We held hands together at all kinds of memorials, makeshift and dedicated, and knew we were American. We ate food together, from the breaking of “bread” as subs, hoagies, heroes, wedges, sammies, dagwoods, clubs, tacos, gyros, kas, dürüm, Yufka and many others I’m sure I didn’t get the opportunity to experience. Assholes that define American based on the flag and the anthem (and a need to show respect to the hot dog as a do a proxy for a the masculinity of a cock, no joke it’s a subset of the current Alt-Right American definition) a huge disservice to what it meant for all of us who defined our Americanism in the moment.
And, I haven’t gotten over the jackassary of people who call themselves Americans and yet restrict their empathy to those who are like them. Look like them. Act like them. Think like them. No, the nation is NOT defined by conservatives. No, the nation is NOT defined by whites. No, the nation is NOT defined by protestant christians. No, the nation is NOT defined by men. No, the nation is NOT defined by the white collar upper middle class employee. No, the nation is NOT defined by flyover state values. No, the nation is NOT defined by those without a “criminal record.” No, the nation is NOT defined by Koch-type corporate funding.
But what I haven’t come to terms with and cannot stand is the utter shitbaggery of people who call themselves Americans out of convenience. They’re more than happy to selectively promote beliefs and values an lifestyles under some Americaness guise. They love half the religious clause of the First Amendment granting them the ability to worship as they chose, without any respect for the second part that means their worship cannot infringe on my worship or lack thereof. They are too stupid, and short sighted to realize, they are laying the groundwork for any religion or belief system when it gains enough national prominence to ply it’s beliefs politially and religiously at the expense of everyone else. They are too arrogant to understand interpretation is subjective and American religious identity has changed considerably over the last 200 years and will change again.
But what I haven’t come to terms with and cannot stand is the utter shitbaggery of people who call themselves Americans out of convenience. They love the modern interpretation of the self defense clause of the second amendment while ignoring the historically understood first clause of a well regulated militia. They want everyone to have a weapon while forgetting that weapons during “regulated” periods managed to both kill political leaders out of political hate and destroy huge swaths of the population of of “your different” hate in ways conventional murder could never do, and continue to enable those who are not of either sound mind or sound body to murder fellow Americans in cold blood in volumes that no other industrialized, civilized or otherwise modern nation has.
But what I haven’t come to terms with and cannot stand is the utter shitbaggery of people who call themselves Americans out of convenience. They want to apply the idea of “due justice” when it’s convenient while ignoring that murder by cop regardless of color is a violation and use their privileged position of not being as likely to be killed to defend shitty policing while not be willing to realize they could still die as a Forth Amendment violation and have no recourse, despite their whiteness, or maleness, or middle classness, or christianess. At some point some aspect of them will inherently become a less than majority experience and their inability to show empathy or use intellect will cost them dearly when their approach allows, ney, necessitates the pendulum swings against them.
But what I haven’t come to terms with and cannot stand is the utter shitbaggery of people who call themselves Americans out of convenience. And yet act inherently against the foundations of American but can stand up, once a year, to “never forget” the sacrifices so may of of made. We didn’t chose to be ground zero. And, yet, we are. We are survivors. Of the attack. Of the clean up. Of the WMD retribution. Of the partisan lies. We didn’t chose to be victims of inherently Anti-Ameican sentiment by our fellow Americans. And, yet we are, and we not only have survived, in some cases, we have thrived form it to fight for America.
We fight for an America we know has scars. We suffered those scars and can empathize with those who are scarred too.
We fight for an America we know has flaws. We realize the flaws, our own and in others, and want to overcome them together.
We fight for an America we know has potential. We showed ourselves and the world what we could do and are encouraged by the outcome to keep trying more.
We are Americans. We – NYC, NJ/CT/HVNY, DC/DMV, PA – are an embodiment of American. In our diversity. In our tenaciousness. In our compassion. In our boldness. In our empathy. Stop “never forgetting” us and the aspect of America we embodied but once a year and embrace the spirit that drove us to overcome the attacks when most other places would have melted down and be inspired to take our comprehensive idea of community to a new level of American-ness. We weren’t perfect but we were a whole helluva lot better than the shitbaggery of people who continue to try and define American-ness as a division rather than an inclusion.