So here we are again. This day..
This year, for the first time, I have one of those “healing fields” right next door to my house. Long rows of American flags on the lawn of the local civic center, standing about as tall as I am on poles made of white PVC, their colors bright under the September sun. During rare moments when there’s a lull in the traffic on the busy road out front, I can hear a whispering sound as folds of nylon cloth ripple and slide past each other in the light breeze. It’s rather peaceful. Pleasant, even. And yet… I hate it.
I hate that it’s been 19 years since that other sunny September morning and we’re still putting up these fields of flags and ritualistically posting images of the lost towers and the words “never forget” on our social media. What good does it do us as a society to keep doing this? How long will it take, how many years of putting up “healing fields” does it require, until this nation finally is healed? Or even beginning to heal? Or at least pretending to?
Not that anyone asked, but I’ll tell you what I think: I don’t believe Americans really want this particular wound to heal. I think we enjoy our martyrdom too much.
Blasphemy, I know, and maybe more than a little asshole-ish to say it out loud. But look… we don’t behave this way around December 7, and as far as I know, we never did. We just got on with the business at hand. I suppose it can be argued that 9/11 was more traumatic than Pearl Harbor, because it happened on the mainland instead of 2500 miles away, right in the heart of our most important city, and we all saw the towers fall on live television. But still… it’s been nearly two decades. An entire generation has been born and (mostly) grown up in that time. So why are we still doing this?
In a couple of recent posts, I mentioned the way I reacted to breaking up with someone when I was 20, the way I moped about it for much, much longer than I should have. I didn’t see it that way at the time. Back then, all I knew was that I was hurting. But here’s the thing: Looking back now, I think that after a while, I chose to keep hurting. It became a sort of identity for me. I saw myself as the wounded romantic, the tragic figure who lost at love. In some weird, fucked-up, masochistic way, I think I actually liked hurting and pining for a lost love. But it was foolish and self-destructive. Maybe a little bit phony, too; that is, maybe I wasn’t really hurting so much as I believed myself to be. And it was self-limiting: Who knows what opportunities I missed out on, that I was utterly blind to, because I was so absorbed with this… idea. Because in the end, that’s what I was really hung up on, an idea of loss more than the actual girl that I lost. And it was all, when you get down to it, somehow… somehow it was my fault that I felt that way. It was my choice to remain in that headspace instead of pulling myself together and getting on with living.
I think that’s what Americans are doing with 9/11 at this point. We’re choosing to continue this annual ritual of mourning that is, to my way of thinking, far out of proportion with the number of lives actually lost. Three thousand people died in the twin towers and in the Pentagon and in that field in Pennsylvania, and that is tragic. The manner of their deaths was absolutely horrible. But how many died in the wars of revenge that we waged after 9/11? How many have died of COVID-19 in the past few months, and how many are going to die of it before it finally burns itself out or recedes to the level of an annual nuisance instead of a scourge? Are they going to get an annual day of remembrance too? Because I think this damned plague has been every bit as traumatic and painful as that terror attack 19 years ago. But that’s different somehow, isn’t it?
Don’t misunderstand. I’m sure there are still people who lost loved ones in the attack or who live near to where it happened who struggle this time of year. I’m not unsympathetic to that. I don’t think we should stop all commemoration of the event or of the lives lost. But I’d like to see it start to scale back. To become a regional thing that happens at the places where people actually died, like the annual commemoration on the USS Arizona. We shouldn’t forget what happened or ignore it moving forward, but can’t we be a little more measured about it now that we have some distance from it?
And for god’s sake, can we avoid turning this into yet another “America, Fuck Yeah!” holiday? Because I fear we’re drifting that way now that this day has been officially designated as “Patriot Day.” In addition to that field of flags, my hometown is planning a classic-car parade and fireworks tonight at — naturally — 9:11 PM. I can’t tell you how distasteful I find that. This day is supposed to be a solemn memorial for the dead, but let’s have a party too. But I suppose that’s the America way, when you get down to it. Armistice Day becomes Veterans Day, which becomes a three-day weekend and an opportunity for a killer deal on a new pickup truck. I know that I’m just spitting into the wind with my desire to see Patriot Day rolled back to something quiet and small and dignified. But then I’d also like to see American troops leave Iraq and Afghanistan once and for all, and I’d like to not have to take off my shoes at the airport anymore too.