Sunday, September 11, 2011

When We Had to Move Forward

As we converse about where were we when the attacks happened, we’ve also reflecting back to find out what have we discovered in these 3,652 days since.

It’s an exercise I’ve performed countless times in recent days; deciding if talking about it was worthwhile to give readers that connection to 9/11. Those of us who witnessed it will never forget it. And though truthfully, everyone but New York City forgot about February 26th, 1993, what happened ten years ago today in NY, in the DMV area, in western Pennsylvania will be seared into our minds forever.

It’s unquestionably difficult to stomach all these remembrances, especially for those who watched from afar and witnessed other senseless tragedies in the last decade. Yet, because extremists on all sides of this war put truly innocent people in harm’s way for the world to see, we are here today to think back.

This field will never be forgotten.
There continues to be countless misfortunes in our daily existence that don’t need excitable words like ‘terrorism’, ‘extremist ideologue’ and ‘Michele Bachmann’. Turn on the news or check out your bookmarks and we’re reminded of the struggle to co-exist peacefully in the same neighborhood or workplace. Think about something equally, if not more devastating than 9/11; how ‘Katrina’ comes to mind as we are forced to HOPE that the federal government can respond in a timely manner to a natural disaster. Consider how frayed we have become because of The Great Recession That Isn’t Over, No Matter How Economists Define a Recession. Consider anything that reminds you about when you mourned the loss of someone or something that set a purpose in your life.

However, though we’re being somewhat forced to reflect on this day, we remember it because outside of New York – where it’s happened before – Americans never believed that an outside threat would successfully strike us again. The United States of America has never, ever, ever been innocent, despite the contrast some media members offer to their audience. Yet, it also hadn’t been this vulnerable since the Civil War created a geographical and cultural crevasse within the nation. Something else that it had never been; and not ever since, was so momentarily connected than it had been for those subsequent months after the attacks.
The thing about these ten years since is that as a society, we’ve become far more fractured than connected, despite the flattening of the world through our current technologies. The vitriol that has been spewed from all sides of the political spectrum has managed to create a larger and more apathetic middle that is raising a middle finger to the dissention. Many of you certainly agree with that, but in some ways, we unconsciously participate in the rage. The best of us keep such moments as mere blips or accidents, but too many embrace such venom – story manipulation, ‘truth-telling’, snark and sarcasm, shock humor – as an identity. 9/11 may not be THE culprit, but it was unquestionably the accelerant to this new ‘normal’ where we don’t know how to talk to each other without cynicism or outright hate in our hearts.

It’s easy to opine about "what we've learned" in these ten years since, but the truth is that outside of learning how to hate in more nuanced ways than ever, we’re still figuring it all out. After all, though society is a collective of individuals practicing accepted (and expected) behaviors for one another, we’re still individuals trying to navigate our own lives with as little pain as possible.

via the Pentagon Memorial

I can tell you about where I was when the attacks took place, but the only thing that can truly resonate in telling that story was the helplessness felt. Having already lost a parent three months prior – dad helped develop the modern Battery Park City that was born from the construction of the Twin Towers in the 60s and 70s – there was an incomprehensible emotion as several family members were either next door to the Towers or in the vicinity. Yet, there are many who have told their harrowing tales to give gravity to this day beyond what this college sophomore (at the time) away from home felt so long before.
What I can tell you is that every one of us had a role in moving forward. It wasn’t moving on or healing as society at large has become increasingly angry in the years since. We all had to take a step back and think about one another, if only for a moment.

The roles of the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA have been reflected to the point of ad nauseum, but they were important as only sports can provide such frequent large scale public gatherings. Eventually when the NBA, NHL and other sporting organizations around North America got going, we were able to prove that even with frayed nerves, most of us can go out and try to live as close to the old normal as possible.

via NYT
I didn’t come home Columbus Day weekend. This was sophomore year at Babson College; a place I’ve come to love over the years, but one I was hoping to leave at the time. It was hard enough being up there, seemingly mourning alone while family and friends were missing ‘Bobby’ together back home. Yet, what eventually brought me back to the Boroughs about two weeks after that holiday weekend was the birth of one of my nephews. He was the first boy in the family since yours truly and just about everyone close to us had the chance to see him except for me.
He was just about a month old when I finally got on that bus from Newton, MA to the Port Authority. It may have very well been the case that none of us on that Greyhound had been back to the metropolitan area since the attacks, but I certainly hadn’t. With all that silent, but simmering anxiety within the bus, it was hard to imagine what the City itself felt like.

Getting off the bus was surreal in so many ways. Rush hour was slower than the “New York minute” all of us natives grew up on, but it was still a New York rush hour. People weren’t bursting through the doors with that ‘get there yesterday’ attitude they normally carried, but rather, they were forging ahead with each step or swing of a briefcase.

In the subsequent visits between Thanksgiving 2001 and March 2002, I never loved my City more. Not in that stereotypically arrogant and hackneyed way that makes others ‘hate’ us, but in that earnest way that only natives recognize. With all of the geographic, socioeconomic and generational divisions within these Five Boroughs, people truly did look out for one another for a while. Though the outpouring of support and respect from all over the world was appreciated, the recurring theme from within was “but we LIVE here”. Though millions of us here couldn’t fathom what the victims’ families had to endure, we still felt as if a piece of us was taken away. [Certainly all of you in the DMV and western Pennsylvania felt the same way.]
It was strangely comforting, even though the air was thick and full of loss.

That weekend told me that with or without anyone’s help – even significant federal help as 1993 taught us – the millions of people who make the City work were resilient beyond measure. That weekend told me that my family, weighed down from the loss of our patriarch and the attacks on the Towers he had a hand in building, were somehow going to be okay.
That weekend told me that it was safe to come home.

via NYT

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