10 Years Later
The funny thing, in retrospect, was that I had actually chosen to listen to news radio before I’d even gotten in the car that morning – something I never, ever do. I was just starting a six hour drive to Southern Oregon, but had forgone rocking out to CDs because of the huge, game changing news – the news that would change everything – that was expected to be announced that day: Michael Jordan’s newest come-back from retirement. That was quickly forgotten, obviously, and I spent six straight stunned hours of commercial-free radio listening to the day’s events unfold. (Not a lot of people remember this, but part of what made that day more surreal than it might have already been were the constant reports of explosions, unexploded bombs being found in public places, and plane crashes occurring throughout the country. With the exception of the Pentagon crash all proved to unsubstantiated, as journalists gave in to the national hysteria.)
Some posters here will have been close enough – either to New York or to some of the people who perished – to talk about the event in ways that living in Oregon I just can’t; others will do a much better job of discussing the meta effects on today’s political sphere better than I could ever hope to do. So I will leave those tasks to them. What I will choose to share, then, are the two lessons I have chosen to take from 9/11 and the vows they compel me to make to myself.
The first is a reaction that I know will puzzle many: When I reflect on 9/11 now, I feel unbelievably lucky to be living at this time and in this place. I note that Jason has touched on this already, but in my lifetime the defining horror – the national tragedy – was the death of 3,000 people. I in no way want to make light of their deaths, or minimize the act of evil that took them from their loved ones too early. But if this isn’t just as bad as it gets in my lifetime, but so far ahead of the next bad thing that it’s still at least partly how we frame almost any national debate 10 years later, then I recognize that I am undoubtedly and undeservedly blessed. My father’s part in his generation’s nation horror was fighting in that Pacific Theatre in WWII; my grandfather’s doing similar duties in France and Germany a World War prior. When I think about this, I vow to never forget my love for the country, people and – yes – even government that, for whatever it’s ongoing annoyances and problems, has allowed this period of grace.
The second lesson I take away has to do with how little it can take to choose to abandon that grace.
I would very much like to be able to say that immediately after 9/11 I was able to look at the events with a calm sense of Big Picture that I think I do now – but this would be a lie. I wanted blood; I wanted revenge. And this desire was both primal and palpable. This is why I have empathy for those in the Bush administration that presented the case of why we really, really needed to go into Iraq. I know that now it’s my job as a Bush-hater to decry his purposeful lies, designed only to expand his power base and line the pockets of his Vice President and other assorted cronies. But I still don’t buy this line; the truth is I think most of us at the time would have come to similar conclusions with just about any mixed bag of piss poor evidence. So I also vow to remember this lesson when the next Bad Thing happens, in the hopes that I don’t advocate rash actions that kill so many people because it just feels right.
And that’s really what I choose to take away from the event that Changed Everything – because at the end of the day, for most of us, I don’t know that all that much has actually changed. We’re in wars that we can’t get out of, but for good or bad (I’d argue bad) two administrations in a row have done a masterful job of running them in a way that provides literally no inconveniences of any kind to the general populace. And it’s also true that a certain kind of social conservative has made a seamless transition from The Terrorists Are Evil to All Muslims Are Evil and have been (I believe) shamelessly exploited by political and media powers, but let’s face it – that kind of person was going to find an Enemy with a hatred that could be exploited by those powers anyway. And it’s led to a significant pendulum swing-back in the civil liberties department, but I’ve been around long enough to know this debate has always been going on, and that swing would have happened eventually anyway. And I know that eventually it will come back this way again.
To those that lost loved ones on that day, or any day since due to the actions we have chosen to take, my thoughts, wishes and prayers are with you this weekend. I wish you all the happiness that is possible now and in the future.