For anyone old enough to comprehend it at the time, 9/11 will always be a sad day. There will be years when it is more sad than others. Some years, it will be mid-morning before you realize the significance of the date. Some years, you'll be thinking about it days in advance. This is the nature of seminal, life-changing events. This is what happened with the anniversaries of the assassination of JFK, Pearl Harbor, and - for those living 100+ years ago - the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
This 9/11 was particularly sad. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this, although I think the primary culprit is the total dissolution of the false sense of 'unity' that seemed to take over the country since the first anniversary of the first plane hitting the first tower. Much has been written about how 'angry' and 'volatile' this 9th anniversary of 9/11 has been. There is no doubt that the pundits are correct when they say it is the most discordant anniversary of the eight that preceded it.
The sadness that this leaves in many of us is not because we really believe that we were all united on that day, every year, since 2002. I think it is because of the real unity we felt in the 96 or so hours after the first plane hit the first tower. By the time President Bush reintroduced air flight in the United States - on September 13, 2011 - after its suspension immediately after the attacks, the small pockets of discord returned to our lives. And that is as it should be. The country is rarely united in such a way - and thank God. It was united because it takes tragedy of an unimaginable force to make us put all other interests aside, other than each other. If you are lucky, you get through a whole lifetime without that kind of unity, quite frankly. At the most, you hope to see it only once in your lifetime. It is not normal, nor should it be.
But there is a difference between the 'normal' discord and what has become 'normal' over the past 25 or so years. The venom that pervades our body politic is not the kind of discord that makes a representative democracy run, but the kind of rancor that dissolves such forms of government if it is left unchecked or untempered by rational discussion.
That venom is at its highest level in this country, perhaps since the Civil War. Hopefully, we will never experience the kind of violent dissolution that our forefathers suffered 150 years ago. Let's hope we don't, anyway. Still, it is discouraging for us in 2010, no less than it was for Americans in 1860.
There are - really - large pockets of people in this country who believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim terrorist; who - really - believe that we are 'creeping' toward Socialism; who believe that 'Liberals' are really intent on taxing and spending us into a totalitarian state of perpetual 'slavery' to a national government that wants to take over every aspect of our lives.
On the flip side, there are - really - large pockets of people in this country who believe that President George Bush not only allowed 9/11 to happen but planned it in a top--secret effort to start the U.S. down a path to war with Iraq, while rewarding his 'buddies' in the oil industry and the 'military industrial complex' with billions of dollars in government contracts. They believe that 'conservatives' want to reinstate slavery of African Americans; that they want to suspend religious freedoms for all but white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants; and that the entire 'war on terror' is a giant plot designed to establish U.S. hegemony over the world's few billion Muslims.
When a few people hold such beliefs - on either side of the political spectrum - it is mildly amusing and great blog fodder. When enough people to fill the Grand Canyon believe it, it is neither mild nor amusing. It is surely beyond 'sad', but 'sad' is the only word in the English language that I can think of right now.
That is why this 9/11 was particularly sad. Not because we were really 'united' every year on that date since 2001; but because we really were united during those days after the attacks. We all had a shared experience that - while terrifying [and lest you forget, those days were terrifying for all of us with the very real possibility, in our minds anyway, of further death and destruction] - were also somehow comforting because we were all going through it.
For those who lost loved ones that day in 2001, the anniversary is an incredibly personal experience of death that they have been forced, by the nature of the tragedy, to share with all of us. We need to allow them to have their personal grief and remembrance. It is right that we should do this, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, when talking about the monuments to the dead on that battlefield. For the rest of us, though, beyond the shock and disgust over the loss of thousands of lives, we should remember what we all felt on that day and on the days that immediately followed.
Beyond wearing images of the U.S. flag on everything from caps to pins to diaphragms; beyond calling it Patriot Day; what 9/11 should be is a time - once a year - where we disconnect from our ongoing venomous dialogue and think back to how we felt on that date in 2001.
That, I think, would be the greatest tribute to those who died. And it is the greatest meaning we could discern from their deaths.
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