Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11, six years on

There are a few historically significant phenomena I haven't brought myself to face, mainly out of selfish fear of my own emotional reaction: the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC is one; Paul Greengrass's widely acclaimed 2006 film "United 93" is another. Perhaps this is because September 11, a date marked forever by national tragedy, falls into much the same category as the above-mentioned museum: it's easier to avoid such a raw topic than to open up to it.

It's hard to reflect on that day without reflecting on its details. This wasn't some abstract event that occurred nowhere in particular; it happened on a clear and beautiful morning in early fall, with most of the horror unfolding in one of the jewels of America's crown, New York City. I'm not a New Yorker, but I went to two DC universities well known for their surfeit of New Yorkers. While I doubt I could ever bring myself to live in the Big Apple, I have to say that I have liked just about every New Yorker I've met. I hold New Yorkers in high esteem and harbor more than a little affection for them. My "New York connection," if we must give this bond a name, isn't so much to the physical city as to its spirited people. (I hope I don't sound too much like Jane Goodal observing apes when I say that.) What I'm trying to say is that it hurt when New York was struck because this was a blow against people I know and like.

Of course, blows were struck close to home, too, that day: my father was working at National Airport at the time, so he wasn't far when the Pentagon was hit. I had just come out of a Messianism and Redemption class at Catholic U. and was in Mullen Library when I heard the terrible news that the towers had fallen. My mother worked (and still works) very near the Capitol; DC was a madhouse as decades-old evacuation plans were ignored, traffic jams ensued, and people wondered aloud whether DC's vulnerable bridges, not to mention the Capitol and the Washington Monument, might suffer hits as well. I remember wondering whether anything had happened to my parents. I was lucky; they were fine. All day long, and for many days afterward, news trickled in about the four blows struck against my country-- in New York, northern Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The chaos of that time still echoes in my brain.

Now here we are, six years later. Today, pretty much in passing, my buddy Tom and I briefly discussed the idea of September 11 being named some sort of holiday in honor of the dead. Personally, I wouldn't mind having it remembered much the way Pearl Harbor Day is, but I see no reason for 9/11 to be a national holiday. I also have to say that today, the sixth anniversary of the attack, passed more or less happily. I mentioned to my students that it was a sad day for me and my country, but that life went on. Life should go on. This doesn't mean we should forget; on the contrary, even as we move forward, we should remember.


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