9/11: Thoughts 20 Years Later

The further removed we get from 9/11, the more I struggle to find the right words to talk about it.

Hell I’ve restarted this post at least half a dozen times – metaphorically crumbling up yet another draft and tossing it into the garbage bin.

I can’t talk not talk about it.

But what is there to say?

There’s clearly a before 9/11 and an after 9/11. There was a before where war seemed removed and, something that happened to other countries (privilege I know, I was a 13-year-old white girl from the suburbs) and the after when my mom finally forced us to turn off the TV after people started jumping from buildings and “soft on terrorism” and “Al Qaeda” became a part of the average American lexicon.

How do you describe how beautiful and perfect that nearly fall day was in New Jersey?

How do you describe the wait to see whose classmates’ parents were ok?

How do you describe when they weren’t?

How do you describe the feeling of driving a few towns over that evening where you used to get a glimpse of the Twin Towers and only seeing smoke and spotlights?

How do you describe the silence on the radio that followed for weeks after?

How do you describe the patriotism that didn’t scare you? (Seriously remember when American flags weren’t co-opted by a political party?)

The best way to glean what was going through my young teenage mind is to look at the CD I burned and played on repeat during that time. I wish I still had it, but I remember most of what was on it. There was a ton of Aaliyah (she had died a few weeks prior) mixed in with patriotic songs. “Proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood. “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” by Alan Jackson. “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias with clips of Americans helping other Americans in NYC interspersed between the refrains

I didn’t know at thirteen how “patriotism” could be used and contorted for profit and power. I didn’t know that 9/11 would shape domestic and foreign policy in unimaginable ways.

It’s hard to analyze living history. It’s hard to look at an event as an adult that you witnessed through child eyes.

I mourn the victims and the people who live with a hole in their family quilt. But I also mourn the path we took after 9/11. What if we didn’t bully people into authorizing wars because they didn’t want to appear “soft on terror”? What if we didn’t invade two different countries? Would that have respected the memories of those killed any less?

This is an interesting anniversary year as the war in Afghanistan comes to a messy conclusion. Will we spend any time in self-reflection? How will we resist repeating the same mistakes? What was it all for?

I don’t know if the pit in my stomach that arrives when I flip the calendar from August to September will ever go away. 

I don’t know if it’ll ever get easier to watch/listen to anything 9/11 related, and maybe that’s ok. Maybe we never needed wall to wall coverage. I was surprised to find myself devouring Dan Taberksi’s new podcast, “9/12” despite my aversion to 9/11 media. The podcast promises to explain how 9/11 shaped American culture and maybe that unsettled feeling is centered in not understanding. Because, like many, my memory of 9/11 is frozen in time – and at the time I was an 8th grader living in a commuter town outside of NYC.

Not the cleanest of conclusions, but to listen to 9/12, click here.  

x, Mere

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