Today is September 11. The anniversary of an attack. A national tragedy. A victory for those eager to instill fear in the American psyche. A work day. A deepening and widening of the U.S. political chasm. It's the anniversary of a really rough day.
My Facebook feed is alive today with different takes on what today means. For some of my friends, it is a day to praise God for the freedoms our Country still affords us, even in the face of those who would deprive us of those freedoms. For others, it's a time to remind the world that those who committed the acts of 9/11 did so in the name of God, and to warn of the dangers of religion. For some it's a time for introspection, for others a time for open discussion.
I don't know what to do with today. Days like today ignite a war between the cynic in me and the sentimentalist. I'm annoyed at pretty much everything I read, no matter what side of any argument the author takes. Talk of God's blessings on some level deny some fundamental problems with religious belief vis-à-vis tragedy. Anti-theists, however, tend to get awfully strident, cocky, and condescending when they see a chance to hit religion where it hurts. Neither side seems to care that this tragedy belongs to all of us, and that maybe the actual anniversary might be a good day for a moratorium on divisive talk.
Then again, maybe I'm wrong. It's been over a decade since the towers of the World Trade Center came down. Maybe there's been enough time since then to open this day up. After all, we all-too-easily forget to consider important ideas. Without markers like the anniversaries of tragedies, when would we actually remember to delve into some of these ideas? Maybe I should be totally pro-debate on days like today! That sounds good too.
Dammit. Now I'm annoyed at my own whining blog post. How did that happen?
Well, ok. I guess rather than just blather about how everybody else is doing today wrong, I'll just write what's going on with me. That is, what 9/11 is meaning to me today. Yeah. Make it personal. That sounds better.
First, I'm apparently easily annoyed. That probably indicates that I'm a little emotional. It's an emotional day.
Second, I guess I have to admit that I do hold religion partially culpable for 9/11 attack. It's just far too easy to rally people to do horrific things when you can martial them to your cause using God's clarion call. It's also WAY easier to create an us-against-them tribalism thing through religion. If your holy book says it's ok to kill, how much easier is it to ignore the fact that you're clearly doing something very very wrong?
Third, 9/11 for me was not as simple as "terrorists attacked America". It was that, of course, but it was also a lot of equally ugly things. It was the day assholes got an excuse to practice racial hatred with a degree of impunity. It was the day George "W." Bush found the most dickish means imaginable of distracting the Country from how shitty a president he was. It was the launch of a particularly despicable jingoism in the U.S. of A. where any dissent (or even honest discussion) was immediately branded "unamerican", and could therefore be written off.
Maybe that's the real sticking point for me. That last thing I wrote. Maybe in my mind 9/11 has become the day that discourse died in America. The day that politicians learned how to lock in their base voters by sticking red white and blue earplugs in their ears, and eagle-emblazoned blinders over their eyes. It's the day that America forgot that listening to each other makes us stronger, not weaker.
Yep. That's it. That, for me, is the true and lasting tragedy of September 11, 2001.
"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
–Not Sinclair Lewis
4 thoughts on “9/11: A Time For Directionless Musing”
I don’t disagree without you about the jingoism. In the subsequent days when Afghanistan turned into Iraq, too, it was vile how some people would call one “Un-American” or “unsupportive of our troops” if one didn’t think the young men and women in the service should be headed there. (I personally think that’s MORE pro-soldier.)
I hated the jingoism. I, too, hated the racism. But I remember when it brought out the true nature – the best in many people. Remember how some asshole tried to burn down “Curry in a Hurry?” Besides his insane ignorance about who was running the place, the thing I remember is how many people stepped forward with words of support and help repairing the damage. The is the good of this sort of scenario.
I remember, a few years later, how our neighbors came over en masse to support us when we’d sent that response to EVERYONE around after we got that ridiculous, mean anonymous letter. One of my favourite memories of that the SWAT team policeman who lived kitty-corner across the street. I said that I thought maybe the fact we had a “Don’t Re-Elect Bush (well, that was the gist, if not the exact words)” sign on our lawn was a problem. I remember him saying that he had been a soldier and that we had EVERY RIGHT to believe what we believe and he had no problem with it. Sometimes you just want to freeze moments and say, “THAT’S the world we live in.”
But though I agree it was smothered somewhat for a time, I don’t believe the discourse died. And while I believe that discourse is important, and every person should have the right to express their own opinion (which means everyone – EVERYONE – has to listen to something they abhor), I don’t think think that’s what today is about: debate. Yes, it’s important to discuss why or how something happened and all the surrounding issues. “Never Forget,” accompanies the Holocaust for a good reason. But when I was in D.C. and my sister-in-law and I were attending a lecture wherein a couple from Poland shared their story with us (they were volunteers at the United States Holocaust Museum) – and it was amazing – THEY were amazing – the LAST thing they shared was about genocide in the Sudan and how we needed to know and pay attention to it.
So what is today about to me? I believe today is about the people. Thousands of people from all over the world who lost their lives in the World Trade Centers and more at the Pentagon. All those who’ve died of cancer since then because they inhaled the smoke, chemicals and other carcinogens from the rubble of “Ground Zero” while they tried for a short time to find survivors and then spent so long pulling out the bodies of the victims so that families could have closure. And they were from all over the World. It could be something to snipe about – the “Go USA” selfishness of the way many mourn. But at the time, the world stopped and mourned for their own and everyone else, perhaps just realizing that when something so awful happens on one’s turf that they will mourn for that aspect, too.
Today is about my friend who I’ve known since grade school. Today is about this liberal friend who was based in New York at the time as a flight attendant and at some point since then joined the army. He attended a funeral a few weeks ago of a “brother-in-arms.” He’s lost way too many friends and colleagues. He served a number of tours (don’t know how many) in Afghanistan as a medic (ending as recently as this year).
Today is about a friend I met in the Unitarian Church Choir who was at a hotel essentially at “Ground Zero” for a business meeting. She wandered New York and complete strangers helped her find a place to stay and eventually a way to get home. She adopted a baby because for her, she realized the most important things was family. (She had the means to support the child and a supportive family to help as well.)
I think a lot of people observe this day as a memory of a UNITED grief. Throw out the pundits. Throw out the idiots. Throw out the criminals and ANYONE, not just terrorists, who act with the imagined authority of “in the name of God.” (And I should add that that should be the case whether someone is religious or not; according to the ACTUAL tenets of many religions, that is presumption at its worst. Even being judgemental is, as most people know, not in accordance with most religions.)
I don’t think any of us will forget where we were that day. I know I never will. The very first thing I heard on NPR while I was driving to work was the teacher of a school close to “Ground Zero.” I realized what had happened eventually and I had to pull over on 27th South and just sit there listening. I called you; I needed you. I remember being frustrated because I felt like you were dismissing my tears and emotion. Then you told me you’d watched coverage and you’d cried.
When I got to work, I remember my boss saying he knew it was a day like no other and he understood that we all needed leeway to think about it. They played live news footage on the huge screen in the auditorium all day.
Then, that day I did the unthinkable (for me). I don’t remember if I told you or not. The Unitarian Universalist (most often atheist) went to a prayer meeting at the hospital with my Jewish boss and Methodist co-worker. An LDS Chaplain and a non-denominational Chaplain offered heartbreaking prayers. We walked out of the physicians cafeteria where the meeting had been held and I just started weeping in the middle of the big cafeteria. My Boss and my co-worker each put a supportive hand on me and we just stood there without saying a word. Why did I do that? I think I needed to connect with all sorts of people, which, I believe, we should do on a large scale. No one was judging right then. No one forbade me or anyone else for going or judged anybody for not going because of who we were and what we believed.
That’s what I want to remember. A Unitarian Universalist, a Jew and a Methodist standing in silence at the enormity of a universal loss. (And I know, it almost sounds like a “walked into a bar” joke.)
At this point, I’m most inclined think privately on September 11th. I may respond to some things other people have posted (like this – this novella – the ADHD dry spell is over but it will take more than one pill to help even out the volubility).
P.S. My ear plugs are purple. For real.
Yes. I don’t know what in the hell that all means either.
Dan and Kate:
I love you both for your heartfelt
admissions of divine confusion. Such is the human condition —
You say “I have to admit that I do hold religion partially culpable for 9/11 attack” and this website is called thankgodimatheist.
I’m also an atheist, but I don’t blame religion for anything. (Some) people do kill in the name of God, others kill in the name of their country, in the name of whatever. Also, (some) religious people help others, give money to charity, so I don’t think that’s due to religion, but people always have reasons to have good or bad deeds, no matter their religion.