Thursday, September 11, 2008

Commemoration ain't an easy thing to do

We're at war
Seven years later and it gets no easier. I guess it's because I was not intimately tied to anyone in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon. Sure I knew someone who knew someone, but to me, like most Americans, the tragedy was kind of abstract. Something you watched, in horror, unfold on TV.

It took days for the reality and depth of the events to sink in. I think our 24/7 news cycle does us wrong in that regard. We're desensitized to suffering. It takes time to properly appreciate the significance of things -- if we even bother. Thankfully, almost all Americans bothered on 9/11 and in the ensuing maelstrom.

One thing most of us viewing on TV were able to appreciate right away was the fact that we were being attacked. I remember watching the events unfold and my very first thought when the second plane struck was, "We're at war."

I was still active duty at the time and was stationed at Fort Polk. September is a sultry month in the deep south and Louisiana is especially wet. I stood outside puffing on a cigarette. There was a small, wooden porch off the side of our building, much like the kind you see built for trailer homes.

I remember hearing thumping. The stairs leading up to the second floor were directly behind the door that joined the porch. You could often hear people walking up and down. This time it was like someone had fell. The door burst open and my boss said excitedly, "A plane just flew into the World Trade Center!"

I tossed out my cigarette and went upstairs to watch CNN with the rest of my unit. It immediately sucked us in. We watched, mouths agape, eyes wide, as events unfolded. My office was the next one over and I went in to call J-Mom and tell her to watch. I think she was already watching, I can't remember exactly.

Shortly after going back to the team room, the second plane hit.

What if...
It's weird to play the "What If" game with national tragedy. I look back on the past few years and I'm not happy with all of my decisions, but overall I wouldn't change anything. I like where I am and I'm quite happy that I'm in a place to grow stronger with my family, spiritually and intellectually. However, that means that I wouldn't choose to change 9/11. I am where I am today directly because of the events that happened that day. When I think like that, it makes me kind of sad. I mean, sad outside of the fact that I'm already in mourning for the people who lost their lives that day. I mean, I'm sad at feeling so selfish and guarded of my particular situation that, given the opportunity, I would not choose to change what happened.

But that's a pretty superficial stab at the "What If" prospect. Honestly, if asked and if I ruminated long enough, I would change the events of that day. How could you not? No one has that power, though. And that's the danger of what ifs -- you can ruminate yourself into some pretty dangerous states of mind.

Ultimately, accepting the events is what we all had to do and what many are still doing. What's scary to me, and will get me angry faster than most anything, are those who call spurs to action based on 9/11 rhetoric "false patriotism" or "stupid Americanism."

I don't care what reason one would have to say something derogatory about evoking the memory of 9/11 in relation to patriotism. When they do, they show the true nature of their character. That is, they have none.

Seven years later and there is a lot of political dissonance in our country. I hope we can all put that aside for the day and focus on the fact that we were attacked. We lost a lot of lives. And we have yet to exact our full measure of justice.

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