Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Different from all other days...

There will be no shortage of 9/11 posts today. There will be no shortage of moments of silence, bowed heads, looks back and grieving remembrances.

This is one more, yet as I am wont to do - I ask a question - what's new?
I remember during Passover, one of the questions my father used to read was "What makes this night different from all other nights?"
I'm not sure why but that question always stuck out in my mind. It wasn't a happy special or an exciting Christmas morning-like paradigm shift from the ordinary.
It was somber. It was proud. Eloquent in its poetry of historical context, moving in its personal parallel, it fell like grey silk on those present - dark yet uplifting, melancholy but hopeful.

It is this same type of mood 9/11 brings me. It is of course different in that I was alive when it happened, I remember distinctly, as does everyone else, where I was, what I was doing. I obviously don't recall the Exodus from Egypt.
Yet it stirs within me, and I would think within many others, that same sense of a personal narrative, a deep seated connection to the events and the people involved - something that we, as a nation and a people, all have in common. This is our tragedy, our story.
We look back upon it, with sorrow and reflection, but also with pride, with hope, with strength.

In the eleven years since that morning, much has changed in this world, and greatly due to our actions.
9/11 catapulted us into two wars that we are still waging, that have claimed the lives of thousands of US soldiers. Here at home, our economy has bent and nearly broken under the burden of bad decisions and corrupt leadership. Our government is horribly splintered and inefficient, stalling and suffocating progress.
In many ways, we are worse off now than we were then.
Yet we look back with that somber pride of overcoming, of finding strength and unity.

Have we? Are we more united, more strong? Or do you we just reserve these feelings of togetherness and progress for this day - this day different than all other days?

What has changed?
What have we gained from the experience as opposed to lost?
Osama Bin Laden is dead. Our relationship with Pakistan is more strained than ever as we continue to pummel them with drone strikes, arguably growing terrorist ranks by default.
We are still occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, one of which had nothing to do with these attacks.
We have spent ungodly amounts of money on these endeavors while our people struggle to get by. Ironically enough, several articles today discuss the plight of surviving 9/11 families and the work of non-profit organizations to raise money, countering the lack of federal support.
We live under the most inefficient Congress in history - an ever deepening abyss of left/right hate fueling an all but stalled engine, kicking back smoke on progress and political engagement.

So, really - what is new? What makes this different than a lip service tradition? Have we, as a nation gotten better because of this - as is suggested?

This morning at Ground Zero, the family members of those who died read the names of the deceased aloud to the din of New York and the rapid clicks of cameras.
Politicians were present but none spoke - marking the first anniversary where no politicians took to the podium.
Obama gave a speech remarking on the resilience of our nation and expressing his grief for the attacks.
I listened for a few minutes and then turned off my radio.

I just sat in silence, remembering the urgent knocking on our classroom door, the distressed teacher on the other side asking that everyone come to the auditorium for an announcement.
I remember looking at my father, a historian and a New Yorker, as he watched the news, quiet and solemn. I've never seen him cry - his generation has endured many national tragedies. This was my first. As a writer and a man of words, he had little to say. His eyes could fill a book as they reflected the repeating images on the screen.
That wasn't like Passover. That wasn't a look back - that was a first look, a first impression of terror and tragedy.

For months, it was a keystone of conversation, and then, as events do, it faded from the news, and gradually from our day-to-day.
It would not do otherwise - we have to move on, as people and as a nation.
But, as we move on - wasn't the point to take those heavy words from countless speeches with us? To implement the change, the strength, the unity?
As I sat in silence this morning, I let myself cry. Not just for the victims and their families.
But for the soldiers, the innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. The homeless, poor and disenfranchised who suffer under this broken system of dis-unified corruption. The Americans who wanted strength and unity and got weakness and division instead. And in anger, in sorrow...

We are fully capable of progress. We are capable of being those people in the speeches, but we can't just be them for a day.

We can't just come together and remember, we have to come together and look forwards.

That would be a true honor to those victims, and to ourselves, as people, as Americans.

No comments: