Friday, September 9, 2011

Going Back or Moving Forward

This weekend is the 10th anniversary of 9-11, and for months much ado has been made about it. There is a new memorial - including a park and a new World Trade Tower being dedicated in New York, and here in D.C. it's hard to get away from it, too.

This past weekend I took my kids to two museums in the city. On Friday we headed into the American History museum, because that's what they wanted to do with their last day off of summer vacation. There was a new exhibit open, a 9-11 room in which items recovered from all three crash sites were recovered. Pieces of airplanes, cell phones, dolls, clocks that had been knocked off walls and frozen in time, doors from crushed first-responder fire trucks. It was sobering to see the pieces of people's lives - the casual, everyday things that belonged to people that most likely were no longer alive.

At the end of the exhibit was a table with paper and pens so that people could write down their reflections and post them on a huge wall covered in corkboard. We didn't stop to read many of them, but one caught my eye as I passed. It read, "I miss the days after 9-11 when this country was united. We all knew we were on the same side, and proud to be there. Now all we do is fight amongst ourselves."

Wow. How sobering that sentiment is, because it is so true.

On Monday our family went to the Newseum, one of my favorite museums in D.C. There are six floors to the building, and on each floor there was at least one 9-11 related exhibits. A wall of newspapers from every country and state the day after. The cell tower off World Trade 1. The engine off one of the flights that crashed into the towers. A video biography of a photo journalist that died in the falling of the towers, leaving his camera as a record of the last moments of his life.

The terrace on the sixth floor overlooked the Canadian Embassy, which was cloaked in a huge banner saying, "Canada Remembers."

In an article in Entertainment Weekly this week, a quote was highlighted on the page: "The question [we] asked then – 'Why do they hate us?' – is a reminder of how naive we were."

I laughed at that - not in the funny way but in the "are you kidding me" way. Why do they hate us?? Look at our country - we hate ourselves! We hate each other. We hate our politicians that we elect. We hate our media that we continue to watch as though it has the answers to all our questions. We cannot hold a civil debate on facebook among our own friends.

On the news this morning a reporter stood outside the Pentagon asking an official if all this memorializing each year was good for the survivors and victim's families, or whether it just continued to rip the scab off their wounds. He said it was both. It's important to remember, but it sometimes keeps them from moving forward.

How do we do that, though? Remember but move forward?

I tend to think the answer lies in the note tacked on the museum wall. "I miss the days after 9-11..."  I don't miss 9-11, but I do miss 9-12. I miss the flags and the patriotism and the feeling that we all really wanted the same things: a safe place for our kids to grow up, to pursue their dreams. I miss thinking that despite all the differences of opinions we have, and the problems with our political system, we still have each others' backs. That humanity is more important than politics. That behind each bumper sticker is a real person who is not that different than us, and deserves respect, a friendly wave, a smile.

I miss the days when bumper stickers were not so antogonistic.

Some people will argue that 9-11 changed us forever. Maybe. But maybe not so much. Maybe it just changed the way we live. Security is more intrusive. Fear and distrust is more prevalent. More flags are sold. More people are active in politics. But internally, there is still all the hatred and anger and "I'm right and you're not" attitude there always has been. We don't need terrorists; we are destroying ourselves from the inside.

I'll watch some of the 9-11 events this weekend. I'll remember, not because I want to remember the terrorism but because I want to remember the hope we felt the days after, the fleeting unity of Americans, and indeed the world, that we as human beings are not enemies of each other but partners in this journey we call life.


  1. Well said.

    Here's my thing. I'm not going to watch any of the stuff about it. I trust my own memory of it but also I feel like the media exploits these things a bit.

    Also, I feel like every time we make a big deal about 9/11 (which of course was a big deal) we give those terrorists another victory.

    It's like if somebody punches you in the arm. You could do one of these things. You could cry, you could hit them back, or you could pretend it didn't hurt at all. I'm the type that likes to pretend it didn't hurt at all. It takes their power away.

  2. I don't think the us vs. them attitude is a strictly American phenomenon. Prejudice and mistrust, sadly, exist worldwide. Makes you wonder if we'll ever learn to get along.

  3. Amazing post, Heidi.

    Well said.

    I really have nothing to add.

  4. Honestly, I read this post earlier and did not want to be the first to comment because I wasn't sure what to add! You said is all and very well. And I'm happy to read about the banner on the Canadian Embassy.

  5. Very well said, Heidi. I love the idea that what we miss is the unity, and I'm sad that we miss it because it's gone.

  6. Here's my take.

    Divisive political commentary and difference of opinion has ALWAYS existed in this country, from the days of the American Revolution through the Civil War to now. The difference? EVERYONE can join in the conversation now via the web. So it feels worse now. And I think there is some truth that it IS worse, but I chalk that up more to a decline in morality than anything else.

    I think we need to remember quietly, and not bash everyone over the head with it like the media has been doing for the past few days now. I am in a hotel right now at a writing conference so actually have access to a t.v. and cable. There were a gazillion special on t.v. last night alone on 9-11. I watched a few because it is the 10th anniversary and I feel it's important to remind ourselves of what happened. Our country has collectively forgotten that day and how we came together. THAT is the reason we need to remember - so that we can realize how we can really be - compassionate and understanding and united.

  7. Did you know Islam means peace? I don't know how the sect of terrorists who did this to our country and to the world can use religion as a reason to behave the way they did. It saddens me deeply to know how the media groups those terrorists with all Muslims. When one Christian or Jewish person does something wrong they don't group them with all Christians...They judge them as one person. I think it is only fair that all people are judged this way...based on the quality of their character as MLK said.

    Wonderful post, Heidi.