September 11th. "Nine-eleven."
The date is always a problem: How to remember? How to forget? How to move on? And, given the current historio-political realities, can or should we even be thinking about "moving on"?
When the attacks happened - and the word "attacks" in my opinion convolutes the somewhat counteroffensive quality the Al Qaeda actions employed, if we are to believe the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the organization - I was in high school in the Bronx.
More precisely, I was trying to figure out my scheme for history class, having neglected to do homework on the Dutch role in Triangular Trade. We were called into the gym for a school-wide assembly, where big television monitors were hooked up to the news.
We watched the second tower get hit, and we watched both of them crumble. It was very scary, odd, unnerving, sad, confusing, and everything and nothing.
Cellphone networks were down, so getting in touch with family was difficult. I ended up spending the night with cousins, as rumors conflicted about bomb scares and what roads and bridges were shut down.
I think school was closed for a day or two while the damage was assessed. One of my good friends went to a school in Lower Manhattan that was used for weeks as a triage center for the wounded.
I remember putting red, white, and blue ribbons in my hair as a sign of solidarity with the victims. I also remember a friend bitching about how another student won an art contest later in the school year, for her photo of a seated man cupping his head in his hands, "only because it has a stupid American flag on the hat and everyone thinks it's deep."
Every subsequent year of high school, we had assemblies on the anniversary date to process what we understood to have happened. Our Quaker principal tried to introduce the "silent meeting," during which individuals were to speak only if we were moved to do so. Unfortunately for his good intentions, the majority of the student body was far too moved/egocentric to let any silence linger in the room.
It was a confusing time, a self-absorbed, unawakened time in my life. I didn't understand the motives for the attacks or the subsequent wars, or why people would still sign up to be soldiers, or how oil reserves figured into all of this. It didn't make sense to me why people would fly a plane into a building just to make it fall down, who would think of such a thing, and who would want to be involved in a suicide mission like that.
In college, people used to ask me where I was on "9/11," and if I knew anybody who had died. I always thought it was weird that other people cared, even though I remember seeing German people on TV hold vigils for the victims, and watching other commemorations around the globe.
I guess it comes down to a sense of ownership over the occasion, having been in New York City at the time it happened. I was even upset at my sister for doing a computer project about it, thinking "Why should she have feelings about this? She goes to school in New Jersey."
These feelings were from a place of uncertainty. Where does September 11th belong in the individual or collective memory? What should we have though about it at the time, and what should we make of it at this point?
Over the past ten years, I have thought about September 11th both often and infrequently. It is not good to dwell, but it is good to remember, I suppose.
It is hard to talk about, and sometimes hard to think about.
Sometimes it is frustrating, especially when I think about how even the day's name has been co-opted by militaristic, opportunistic, proto-Fascist elements in this country, who have led us down from a pedestal of international grief and goodwill to a pit of overreaching, bankrupting pan-continental imperial aggression. And while there is a lot to think about, there is really not a lot it seems that I can do.
This year I joined the New Orleans Jewish Federation in doing a community service project to mark the date's passing. We were mudding a house for a lady who has been displaced since Hurricane Katrina. That is fucking ridiculous. And here we are as a nation, spending money on stealth bombers and bullshit, when we can't even fix a woman's house six years after it got flooded.
[I always feel a little guilty doing projects like that, because I think it lets the powers-that-be off the hook for taking care of these things. Like, why should I spend my free time fixing these things when they really shouldn't have happened in the first place, and whose progress has been thoroughly impeded by a gross compendium of negligent government engineering programs, unscrupulous insurance companies, and predatory contractors?]
On the way to the work site, I was listening to NPR coverage of the memorial ceremonies in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania. I started to cry hearing the bells ring behind the children's voices saying the names of their parents who died.
I felt stupid for crying, but glad that I could still get worked up about something so genuinely awful.
If it is awful just for the death of people with loved ones, then it is awful enough. If it is awful for its place in U.S. history as the impetus for far-reaching military invasion in the lives of foreigners and nationals alike, it is still awful. And I'm not sure I'll ever know how to remember it properly.