11 September 2006

What Do You Choose To Remember? (CS)

Five years since 9/11/01. I've watched more TV coverage already than I expected I would. A lot of the same questions and ideas keep popping up.

Where Were You?

Our obsession with memory and the impact of that day have combined to make it a particularly resonant day to describe to others. An amazing catalog of oral history regarding 9/11 has been and continues to be gathered. Where was I? I was in class, right on Washington Sq. Park. We heard the plane roar by as it went down 5th Avenue. We laughed somewhat nervously at it, not having a clue of what it signaled. Class ended at 9:15 AM and as I reached the lobby of the building I could see everyone talking to each other. Something was clearly going on. An acquaintance I ran into told me a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. At first I thought he meant an idiot in a Cessna that had just gone astray. But this idea was dispelled once I entered the park and looked straight downtown to see the buildings on fire. The sound I'd heard in class recurred to me. The crowd around me grew and each additional member added to the news as they'd heard it, on the television before running outside, on the radio in the cab they'd just gotten out of. Two planes.... commercial passenger jets... not an accident..... One man told me he had a friend working a temp job up around the 90th floor or so who was debating going to work today. He hadn't been able to get in touch with him yet.

What Has Changed?

Almost precisely five years from that day (to the minute), I went back to the same part of the park where I watched everything unfold from 22 city blocks away. The things that occurred to me while sitting in the park this morning were actually along the lines of what HASN'T changed. It was a beautiful day that morning (I remember many people noting as much) and it is a beautiful day today. I remember realizing that day that despite the madness, the sirens, our tears and our hearts in our throats, the birds went on chirping, the dogs went on panting, the squirrels went on darting about, and I'm sure somewhere in the Bronx a tiger took a nice long stretch and began sunning himself for his morning nap. I'm sure today is very much the same. I guess my point is, despite feeling like everything stopped in those moments, on that day... despite feeling like observers outside this world where things like this could actually happen... despite our collective trauma and whatever other emotions we've carried along with it.... Life went on. And it goes on still.

Of course things have changed since then. I can assure you things would have changed regardless. Philosophizing aside, the most disappointing thing to me that has changed, not entirely because of that day but certainly since it is the loss of a sense of unity. A unity found through and building upon compassion. ZeFrank put it eloquently in his 9/7/06 show, explaining that this unity came from "a hopefulness from the amazing strength that we have when we decide to help each other." He adds that this unity did not have to do with the government. It had to do with us. Making things better. For each other. New Yorkers who ran to St. Vincent's to give blood and saw the enormous line of willing donors will attest to this.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Always a relevant question. Our reactions in that moment five years ago were varied. Some were immediately ready to strike back. Others were trepidatious. In the moments I myself saw the buildings collapse, I was ready to visit terrible things upon any and all responsible, collateral damage be damned. But when I'd had enough time to cry, enough time to digest... when I'd been laying on my bed, not able to sleep, cringing at each additional siren or loud noise... I didn't want to be involved with things remotely like that. I could not possibly support actions that kill innocents. I could not contribute to what will always be a never ending cycle of violence. That day was in itself enough violence for my entire lifetime. For thousands upon thousands of lifetimes. I was split on our actions in Afghanistan. Good and bad will come of it. How much of each will depend on our commitment and nobility.

I'm still somewhat shaken on what to think about going out and causing war. Can it be justified?

What I do think and feel, however, is that if we want to honor the innocent people who lost their lives five years ago this day we should remember their last words to us. Through the recounting of that day from family members who lost a loved one, through various phone calls and answering machine messages left behind, one idea seemed to pop out at me over and over again. Their last words were always about love. "I love you" or even more often "Tell everyone I loved them." I hope that this is the message we can go forward with. These are the words and the sentiments we should choose to remember. This is the heart rending, yet powerful and uplifting emotion we should recall five years, ten years, every year from that day.

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