So many remember this day with terror and sadness, but I am entirely inwardly focused, going so far as to start a blog. Even as those around me post “Never Forget” on Facebook and find in themselves an affection for NYC they never had before, I am thinking of me, not the thousands of people who lost their lives that day thirteen years ago simply because they went to work.
Now as then, I can’t wrap my head around the magnitude of that event in the city of my birth, a city I will always think of as home, though I moved away when I was thirty. Such fear and chaos. I realize as I get older and experience my particular life, that I can only handle fear and chaos on the scale they exert themselves in my personal existence, that is to say, within my immediate family (partner, kids, dog). It is a pretty first-world perspective; I am privileged not to have to think beyond.
But that’s not quite it. I am overwhelmed these days by things that fill me with rage, and many of these are outside my own experience or pertain to the larger world. Representations of women, lack of legal recourse, world hunger, disease, violence, people taking rifles to the supermarket, murderers of women being found not guilty, murderers of young black men being hailed as heroic, the insistence of pushing Christianity in public spaces, the deification of celebrities…
There’s too much. Who can take it all in? I have had to be selective.
So I’ve chosen what I can handle.
“Never Forget” is a powerful phrase for some. Any Jew born after World War II knows that we remember the Holocaust so that it won’t happen again, so that we may stop it in its tracks, if we get a whiff of its beginnings (for a whiff, see recent pro-Palestine protests in which people chanted “Gas the Jews.”) But what good does it do us all to remember the terrorist plot of 2011? We remember, I think, to feel vulnerable. That day, and in the weeks that followed, Americans knew a feeling many around the world were already familiar with–fear of attack. Bombs. Planes. War on our turf. Americans being killed right on our streets. Vulnerability is something we learn as we mature; young people think they’re immortal, so they do dangerous things (see http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/facts-and-statistics.html for stats on texting and driving, as an example, or look up the delights of butt-chugging, car surfing, or smoking Spice). Older people know they will die. Knowledge of our susceptibility to illness, injury and other disasters is often what keeps us in one piece.
What good can come of feeling scared that we will be attacked? I wonder if it could cause us to change how we interact with the rest of the world. So that foreign policy (and I’m certainly no policy-maker or politician) could be developed around relationships of respect. Americans are seen as brash and insensitive. Maybe we shouldn’t always be so sure that ours is the best way of life, the best way to do things, the best way to worship, eat, talk, entertain. We are not a flawless society, by anyone’s standards. Yet we present a kind of macho superiority to everyone.
Here’s a strange connection: at my gym, I often see the Duggars–that super-religious family with nineteen kids–on one of the TVs. Watching their faces and occasionally reading the captions, I have gathered that Mrs. Duggar likes to have her kids exposed to different cultures, so the show, being a show, takes them on trips to different places. In these different locations, we can see them judging everything and everyone around them–laughing at other people’s customs and foods, being made uncomfortable by everything foreign to them. Given where they’re from, everything is foreign to them. But they march on through, all of them, the girls with their long hair and long skirts, and the boys full of saltpeter, I mean, shirts tucked in, tidy haircuts, believing that they are the “normal” ones. While they own a particular brand of ignorance, I think they may not be different from the majority of us. I fear it, in fact.
An attitude of invulnerability leaves us open to attack. A belief in the inviolable superiority of our way of life leaves us open to attack.
So I turn inward. My kids, my job, my marriage. These days, that’s usually enough.