I'd like to have something positive and inspiring to write about 9/11 today. I don't.
Have you ever tried repeating the same word over and over again until it ceases to have any meaning and it becomes just a nonsensical-sounding collection of sounds and syllables? That's what it seems like 9/11 has become in this country. It's like the duct tape of national tragedies -- you can use it for anything, and we have. We've used it to justify everything from the war in Afghanistan (necessary) to the war in Iraq (anyone remember what the point of this was?), from increased airport security (duh) to banning gay marriage (wha . . . ?). Someone standing in your way politically? Then just accuse them of having forgotten 9/11, or not "getting" 9/11, or not understanding that "everything changed" after 9/11. And boom, instant shame, you win, game over.
That's the problem with the nonstop barrage of 9/11 memorializing I've seen, well, really since yesterday. Look, I'm not going to sit here and be the Grinch Who Stole Patriots' Day and try to say that we shouldn't memorialize the day, because we should. But I don't want people telling me to remember. And I really, really have to wonder how much of this is sincere. I'm sure in New York and Washington and Shanksville it is, but how many other places? Are we remembering and talking about and crying over this day because we're honestly trying to reflect on what it taught us and the ways in which our world changed, or are we just doing it to have something to grieve over and maybe get on TV? Or for candidates on both sides of the aisle to show how devoted they are to what remains Capitol Hill's favorite political football?
I'm also not going to sit here and try to tell people how to feel about it, but let's be honest -- we've got to have some sort of reaction to this that's greater than just being sad, greater than just feeling sorry for our country because it happened to us. Yes, it was sad, and yes, lives were torn apart that will never completely be put back together. But don't just feel sorry for the United States -- we're not the first country to have been sickened and horrified by wanton killing committed on our soil, and we're not going to be the last. Feel sorry for the entire world, the fact that we all live on a planet where people still relish the thought of treating other human beings so cruelly.
Then think about what you can do to change that. Everybody can do something, hell, even if it's just being nicer to people. Even if it's just holding back and not leaning on the horn for a full minute and unloading a Dresden's worth of F-bombs when somebody cuts you off in traffic. I think the emotion I recall most vividly from that day, beyond even my shock at seeing two of the largest buildings in the world virtually vaporized before my eyes or my sadness at the loss of life, was the despairing realization that there must be an enormous surfeit of hate in this world if people could commit an act like that. All I can ask is that people not contribute to that hate. Surely we can agree that we want our country to be better than that.
Sadly, I'm worried that we're going to end up spending a nice long cathartic day remembering and grieving over this for no other reason than because it was exactly five years ago and we've arbitrarily declared those five-year increments pretty significant, and come tomorrow morning we'll be right back to wandering aimlessly around not thinking about anything beyond our own noses or our own wallets.
I hope we'll all do proper justice to the day by taking it beyond one single square on a calendar spending more time looking forward than looking back. If you must look in the rearview mirror, stop to think about your disbelief at watching something so heinous, your despair at living in a world where such an attack could pop off the movie screen and happen in real life, and make an attempt not to add to all the hate we've got in the world. We're already crowded with people still stupid enough to believe that hate and violence will solve their problems. If the best answer we've got is more of the same, we're screwed. But if we can be wise enough to look for a different way, then maybe things aren't quite as hopeless as they looked five years ago today.