Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11/07: For All the Living & the Dead

The day's date had slipped my mind for a few days, most of the last week or so, actually, and so it wasn't until after 1 PM that I was reminded that this is September 11th. I'd been out visiting friends at a remote ranch, without a mention of any news, and spent most of the morning and early afternoon riding my bicycle through the Texas Hill Country alone in a spooky rain storm. Then, I walked into a homey little place for lunch and happened to see the splashy colors of a cable news channel frothing from a TV on the wall, reporting observances of the 9/11 anniversary.

What a difference six years makes.

On the first and second anniversaries of 9/11, in 2002 and '03, I was in New York City, at Ground Zero, watching the ceremonies in person. My brother had been in the World Trade Center that day in 2001. He smelled a strange fire near the elevators (burning jet fuel), escaped with his co-workers (fellow urban planners redesigning the subway and PATH stations that would soon be destroyed) and ran a few blocks away before turning to look back to see what had happened, none of it making sense even then.

Though he tends to be a liberal when it comes to social services and public facilities, my brother is a cultural conservative. He reacted with qualified anger to the attacks. He wanted the United States to go to war with anybody or group or country remotely associated with the attacks.

A year later, when I went with him to Ground Zero on 9/11/02, already enough time had passed to leave retribution mostly out of the conversation. We went not really as mourners but as curiosity seekers, wanting to see how the ritual ceremonies fit our views of the future, not the past.

Some aspects of the 2002 ceremonies did bring chills, but by 2003, a similar ceremony already seemed to have lost the one-year-later buzz. The remembrances seemed a bit calcified and maudlin, unoriginal and pre-packaged, more about politicians' speech writers than about healing and moving on. The visceral feel of the tragedy had faded, and most of us were only muted, indirect victims, survivors in fact, many thriving, others getting along or at least getting by. And by then, of course, our own ongoing wars were already wearing even more heavily on many of us than were the memories of the infamous day itself. In September 2003, the war against Iraq had already been going on for almost six months.

Here we are six years after that stunning day in 2001. Some heal, sort of, some not so much. Some struggle, some move on. Of course there is a range of emotions and reactions. It's not ancient history yet. But most of us know other people who have died since 9/11/01, and every death reminds us that people die in many ways, in ways and at times that startle us and even shock us. Over 3000 people were killed that day. Since then, many hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions) have died in wars, and many tens of millions more in car wrecks, accidents, crimes, of cancer and of disease, despair and other causes, natural and not natural.

Maybe what is sad to some is that life DOES go on. It flees or fights or accepts or ignores dangers and just keeps on going. We're remembered some, a bit, for a while, but really life is about us, the living, those here now, trying to make sense of what it means to be alive, trying to reap rewards and comfort and happiness and even joy.

May virtue and peace prevail.


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