Monday, September 11, 2006

Tribute, tribulations, and terror: Remembering 9/11

It is difficult to write about this day. Every year there is a sense of dread as the date approaches, for a plane slamming into the World Trade Center was the first thing I saw that morning. I woke up, walked into the living room of my new apartment, and turned on the TV. I saw the plane hit and thought I was watching some movie. But as I flipped channels, I saw the same thing everywhere, and then I began to feel abject, gripping fear.

I called out my (ex)girlfriend, and we sat there and watched, holding each other and afraid to even leave the apartment. I decided I wasn't going to class, which turned out to be a good move, since most classes were canceled anyways. I called friends and we talked about what to do, which was basically to do nothing but sit tight and pray that everyone we knew was safe.

I have the images of the towers coming down burned into my memory: nothing could make that go away. I remember how my mom called me, scared to death because she couldn't leave work and check on my younger brothers and take them home. I ended up going to her house to wait for them to come home since their schools were supposedly going to let them go early (it turned out not to be true.) I told work we were going to be late, and my manager quite literally begged us to come in to work. In a sense, it's not like it mattered. We came in, but it was dead. It was slower than a holiday. Anyone who came in looked like a zombie, and all they could do was talk about what happened. People I worked with that were usually full of bluster were subdued. It was so surreal.

That night, I couldn't sleep, and it was a good week before I was functioning alright. I wrote a column the next week (unfortunately, the issue is missing right now from the paper's website), and for a scared 19-year-old, I'd like to think it was alright. I remember my friend and coworker Dan's quip from when he was called by his mom about the crash. She told him a plane crashed into the trade center, and he said, "What, the Gibraltar Trade Center (a Michigan swap meet type place)?" He wrote about that and then his feelings when it hit him. Two weeks later, seeing the tribute at the Mets game, hearing the Star-Spangled Banner, I wept. I wept so hard, and since then, it's hard to hear the national anthem without tears coming to my eyes because I will always see that day when I hear it.

Many of us dealt with things their own way. I kinda checked out that semester in terms of classes, and the classes that had relevance to what was going on were where I did good, and the classes that seemed unimportant I sucked at. I focused a lot of attention on preserving our liberties, criticizing the Arab roundups and indefinite detentions and the Patriot Act. And on my 20th birthday, one month later, I had several sobering reminders of how things had changed. Between my trip to New Orleans (read the below post for details) and my run across the border to Canada to celebrate, I dealt with the changes. I had m-16's right in front of me. I almost wasn't readmitted into the U.S. because we didn't have passports with us, and we hadn't known to bring them, because the changes weren't widely publicized in Detroit, where cross-border traffic is heavy. Eventually, though, life went on.

Five years later, the day has become a political tool. It's not even a national holiday yet, though it should be. It was our Pearl Harbor, our Kennedy assassination. We'll never forget where we were or what we were doing that day. Sadly, our political leaders have largely forgotten the spirit of the day, the meaning of the attack, and the lessons it should have taught us. We are not safer. We haven't bridged the divide with the world, instead, we've widened it. The only lesson we can and should take from this is that 9/11 isn't political. It isn't partisan. It isn't an excuse for personal agendas. 9/11 is, and can only be, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "a day that will live in infamy." Although I doubt it, I hope that our leaders remember today that they stood together that day in a spirit that needs to be revived. When it comes to security, it's fine to debate ideas, but words like traitor and terrorist sympathizer are not acceptable. They don't fix the problem, they perpetuate it. It is five years later, and we are not nearly as safe as we should be. How is this acceptable? Quite frankly, it isn't, and our job as citizens is to remind our leaders that we find this behavior appalling, and that we demand better.

When it comes down to it, the only legacy of 9/11 should simply be: NEVER AGAIN. For that to happen, we have to make our leaders understand that what they've done is not enough, and they need to fix it, NOW.


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