On September 12, 2002 I was still living in New York. The previous day had been very tense. Staten Islanders, already a prickly bunch, were more on edge than usual. There was even more of the road rage, profanity, and other unpleasantries that regulated Staten Island life. In a busy Chinese take-out customers and staff shouted at each other in anger when they usually just shouted because that was how people communicated on Staten Island.
The cause of all this tension was the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The attacks had of course been for a whole year a daily subject of news, conversation, and reflection in New York but the anniversary ratcheted up the frequency and the emotion. The news outlets ran the obligatory remembrances (and there was no shortage of poignancy). But it was like having a big birthday bash when you’ve celebrated your birthday each day all year. It was a little too much for everyone.
Or at least it was a little too much for me. On the morning of September 12, 2002, I sought a return to normalcy in my daily ritual of listening to the morning news but heard yet another stream of stories of victimhood. Maybe it was the stuff that didn’t fit into the previous weeks of programming. At that exact moment I realized that I was ready to move on. I shut off the radio.
I once actually dared to hope that something good might come of that horrible day of September 11, 2001. Like maybe we would reappraise this country’s giant footprint on the rest of the planet which creates these horrible enemies. Maybe we would reevaluate our petty consumer desires and discover what was really important about being the leading citizens of the world. That opportunity for self-reflection was lost to self-justifying jingoism and September 11 became the rationalization for all sorts of American ugliness. I won’t list all my gripes but I’ll give one example:
Our nation’s insatiable security regime has managed to do one thing terrorists were never able to: make me not want to fly in an airplane. I did more flying in the several years after the attacks than I had in my whole life before them. In fact I got on a plane later that very same month for a scheduled vacation (tickets purchased September 10, 2001).
Now I’m just sick of it. It’s not the inconveniences that bother me—those were always part of the travel package—it’s the idea that we’ve let a handful of bearded maniacs prompt the ritual of serial humiliations that is air travel. Last year it was getting scanned with x-ray vision and this year it’s answering questions meant to check if we’re nervous about blowing up the plane. Our government had all the tools it needed in 2001 to stop those savages from flying those jets into those buildings; in the end it happened because responsible people didn’t do their jobs. So if there’s something that makes me hate those animals more and more as time passes it’s that they’ve got us playing their game: living in fear of their next move.
I haven’t changed my mind since I snapped off the radio one year and one day after September 11, 2001. I am not interested in reliving that day. It was not a good one for me or anyone else I know and now that I’ve pegged the exact moment of our national decline to it I want to remember it even less. I am not up for another prolonged national catharsis through our news media. It stunts the process of grieving and healing. If I had lost someone that day, I hope that ten years on I’d have been able to find new love, focus on my surviving family and friends, and renew my purpose for living. I wish the same for our country.