While the rest of the country observed the tenth anniversary of the the 9/11 tragedy, I tried to get as far away from a television as possible. I had little interest in reopening that wound. Even without that horror show ten years ago, I would already mark that year as the worst of my life thus far.
Given that my own personal nightmare was already under way, the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon simply poured curdled cream into cold, stale coffee. Because of that, I developed a different perspective for the events of that awful day.
Only seven months before, my former employer crashed his jet liners into my promising ambitions to make a name for myself with Roadside Magazine. I helmed a bootstrapped enterprise that made next to no money, but that with each year did manage to build upon the previous year’s momentum. It had become inseparable from my very identity and it defined my life and my career.
And then it just stopped. Ten years worth of struggle, effort, pain, joy, and triumph evaporated. The man who bought my little enterprise with a promise to take it to the next level and beyond, a year later killed it, broke my contract, and fired me. Besides the obligatory expressions of sympathy, no one came to the magazine’s rescue. Even those who profited most from my efforts failed to step forward in any meaningful way.
The experience taught me two important lessons: One, Hollywood endings don’t happen and two, for those without the means to enforce them, contracts are a sick, twisted joke.
Then the planes hit, and aside from the anger I felt for those who perpetrated this horror, I felt little else. As callous as it sounds, I must say in all honestly that when I thought of all those high-paid brokerage employees and executives going down in flames with the buildings, I thought, well, at least they had it pretty good while they lived. Good jobs. Families. Vacations. A true American dream upper-middle class existence. I didn’t have that. And now, their families are going to get their payday. That was my reaction to 9/11.
Like you, ten years ago I too looked on in disbelief at the endless replays of the jets hitting the towers. During this dawn of the internet era, I franticly sought all the words and images I could find describing and explaining spectacle, and like you, I felt the visceral pain of our country under attack.
I tried to start up again, and I even gained back the rights to my magazine and website (although not the resources), but the none of spark, excitement, or apparent promise carried forward from the decade before. People moved on. Interest seemed to wane. I got married and had a kid.
I managed to avoid most of the recent memorial service, but when I did look up from my exercise cycle at the gym, I saw politicians making speeches, and I remembered how Governor Pataki read the Gettysburg Address at the first anniversary ceremonies. James Howard Kunstler echoed my sentiments exactly when he wrote, “What kind of a lamebrained people have we become that our governor cannot generate a single original thought to represent us on this day?”
That morning, nine years after, I expected and got no different.
And they made these speeches overlooking giant holes in the ground arranged in a way to evoke a physical memory of the twin towers, which until they collapsed, most people hated. While I have yet to see the new monument first hand, it does make me wonder when we stopped building memorials that soar in affirmation our humanity. Now we mark our hallowed ground with defeatist abstractions sure to confound any future civilization that digs it up a millennia from now.
I have no doubt that when I finally visit this spot, the scale will take my breath away. However, instead of looking up to the sky with a sense of hope, I will cast my eyes down into blackness. At the end of it all, the earth reclaims its own. We enter a void and our existence ultimately means nothing. Whether or not this reflects the intentions of the designer, the final product reflects the true nature of the universe.
If I feel for any of the victims, I grieve for those on Flight 93. By all accounts, those people took action to save — if not themselves — then at least whatever part of our country those animals intended to destroy. For that I am indebted.
So what do I feel now a decade later? Even less empathy. Let’s get on with it, already. Let’s learn our lessons and just move on. Let’s just get the new buildings finished and go back to work.
I know from interviews I’ve heard on the radio that this attitude offends some who had a first-hand account of the events or a loved one who perished there, but their experience is a personal one. It’s their problem, not ours. They don’t deserve a Hollywood ending any more than I did. The world moved on from my tragedy, and by rights, it must move on from theirs.
Just because your tragedy aired on national television and set the world on a new historical course entitles it to no greater reverence than that of a single mother who lost her baby in a car accident on a remote highway in an obscure Podunk town.
I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but yes, 9/11 did change everything. Doing business got harder. Traveling became more inconvenient. But worst of all, our leaders took advantage of the event for political gain, using tried-and-true propogandist tactics to divide the country in unrecoverable ways. The pain from all this will linger on for at least another generation, and even if it gets the chance, it won’t likely learn from the lessons offered by all those who died for no good reason whatsoever.