This is my first 9/11 outside of the United States (I’m visiting Montreal on business). It’s also the first 9/11 I haven’t felt a keen sense of loss. Maybe it’s because I haven’t talked to any of the friends from law school with whom I shared those terrible moments. Perhaps if I called my mom, which I did in the first few hours after the towers fell, I would feel a rush of emotion like I did that day upon hearing her voice. I’m sure if I could leaf through the pictures in the 9/11 photojournal I picked up in the bargain bin a couple of years ago, it would all come rushing back.
Instead, I hear a poet on PBS telling me how we have to stop warmongering in the name of 9/11. And it never occurred to me that I was traveling outside the country on this fateful day — in prior years, I would have thought twice about it. I’ve seen no pictures of the doomed towers on TV or in the newspaper, just photos of people remembering those images. Not one person brought up in conversation today that it has been seven years since the worst day of our lives.
There is probably some amount of growth in this lighter 9/11. We shouldn’t be asked to drown in our grief once per year, nor should the lives lost that day become some totem used to invoke militarism or protectionism. But Americans have seen the Arizona burning in Pearl Harbor routinely since December 7, 1941. Those men, suspended in the blue beneath the wreckage, are appropriately remembered and mourned. Americans have sought, and will find, that balance.
But we cannot allow our fear of abuse of the victims of 9/11 to prevent us from invoking their memories with care. For if we forget the lessons of that day, we do far more abuse to those victims. Then, those firemen racing up the stairs as the buildings fell down upon them would have sacrificed everything, for nothing. Then, the soldiers and sailors who have fought back over the past seven years against the very forces that struck our shores would be wasting their time, for a nation unworthy of their honor. Then, the children of those lost parents will be recklessly exposed to the same dangers that tore their bodies into dust. Then, they would have died in vain.