So, in about 36 hours, it will be the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Like The Onion says, remembering that day can seem less awful than remembering everything that’s happened since. Of course, no, not really, especially for people who lost people, but there’s a kernel of truth in the sentiment. Everything’s been so wrong for so long.
And everything is still wrong. Government officials give these weird announcements about vague, credible, unspecific terrorist threats against my city (this information is useful to me how?) and talk about “the Homeland” like we’re in some badly written, bizarreo-world AU where the Nazi’s won. Any day now, we’ll be allowed to keep our shoes on at the airport though. Really. Any day. They swear. That’s what we’re supposed to be grateful for in these last ten years, and I just can’t even… there’s some screed I could write, something poetic about feet and vulnerability and slavery, and I just do not have it in me anymore.
All of that’s without getting to the racism and xenophobia and violence that 9/11 unleashed, and in the eyes of too many, seemed to justify. Do you know how many civilian casualties there were in Iraq?
But on a personal note, the thing that keeps sticking with me, particularly as a New Yorker who hates the city being used and exploited and pitied and revered and even exiled (it’s like lower Manhattan has become some sort of tragedy theme park) for all of this crap instead of the things it should be (Broadway, 24-hour restaurants, night clubs and possibility), is that it’s been ten years since a lot of other things too.
It’s been (almost) ten years since I stayed with someone because without them cooking dinner for me twice a week the level of my food insecurity was more than I could bear, and it’s been (more than) ten years since the dot.com boom wasn’t. It’s been (nearly) ten years since I held a job I couldn’t talk about in polite company, since I first met my friend Anton in person, since I decided I couldn’t live alone, and since I had the tiniest apartment in the world (but it was all windows< I swear) in Gramercy Park.
None of these things are that interesting to you; nor should they particularly have any reason to be, but I've found them a good reminder as the anniversary looms. Life continued on, continues on. What still often feels like a line in the sand of before and after, isn't. We are not, as a nation, required to be irrevocably changed for some fearful, cruel and wasteful worse. In the midst of really bad things, the minor tragedies of life do not disappear. Neither do the joys.
Anniversaries as we normally celebrate them reflect achievement related to love or memory related to loss. Certainly, in that context of loss the massive attention being paid to September 11, 2011, makes absolute sense, and it is a good, right thing that the occasion be marked. The human mind isn't, after all, really well made to remember fear and pain; if it were, we'd never do anything twice, I often think. September 11, 2001 was a real thing that happened, to us, and it was devastating. It is worth being able to recall it as it was and not, as so many of us thought when we turned on the TV that day, as just a movie.
But the last ten years on a national level are not something to be proud of. And too much of what I see in the impending anniversary coverage is pride in the mess we’ve made out of anger and fear.
I have hope, perhaps unreasonable (but that is what hope is, optimism, even when it may not make any sense), that after this anniversary, things will get better. That the eleventh or twelfth or thirteenth won’t be as compelling as these first ten. That the big wallows in all of this will come every five years, every ten years, that all of this will begin to seem farther away, and as it does, we will return to ourselves.
Because “Ground Zero” (a name I loathe, born out of our nuclear imaginations) has become a tourist site. And while there are numerous reasons that can be justified or called crass, I’ve got just a single reason it infuriates me: coming to New York City, this island off the coast of America, has never, ever been supposed to be about the end of things. I grew up in this place with its poisonous myths, understanding New York as a city where people celebrate the end of wars, not as one where they come to revel in the criminal tragedy that helps make certain they begin.