In a few days, we will observe the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
A lot has happened in a year’s time. We bombed Al-Qaeda and the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan many, many months ago. By earlier this year, our economy looked like it was recovering and adjusting to the new circumstances, but then we encountered enemies among ourselves in our corporations, and we are only now recovering from that self-inflicted damage. The recovery and clean-up efforts at the World Trade Center (I refuse to call it “Ground Zero”) were finished a few months ago, and there is now talk about what to do with the land.
As the last few days tick down to 9/11/2002, I have been dwelling on two thoughts:
Based on a long human history of dumb people doing dumb things, I am certain that someone, somewhere will do something dumb on this first anniversary of the attacks. Whether at the direction of Al-Qaeda or simply someone acting on their own, à la the July 4 LAX shootings, we stand a decent chance of having our day of commemorating the loss of our loved ones interrupted by some new act of violence. For the last month or two, the mood around New York has had an undercurrent of resigned anxiety, that 9/11/2002 will be at least in some way an echo of 9/11/2001. Even friends and co-workers who have not openly talked about it seem unusually uptight, often displaying it by focusing their anxiety or anger on other, smaller issues in life.
Within days of 9/11/2001, I heard someone, somewhere say that 9/11 should become a national holiday. I was immediately struck by the fact that it seemed too soon to be contemplating that. While I knew it was motivated by the power of the emotions after 9/11, the desire to ensure that the day would never be forgotten, suggesting a national holiday for it brought some sense that such a move might only wind up serving the wrong purposes. Consider Memorial Day, which was made a national holiday to remember the men and women who fought and died in the service of our country. Ask a few hundred people in the street what Memorial Day means to them, and you will likely get a decent percentage answering that it means the start of summer and a weekend at the beach. Others might even answer Memorial Day Sales, where you can buy all manner of items at a discount. A few, though rarer as the years pass, will say that it means parades. Somehow, what started out as a day to go to your husband’s, brother’s, father’s, mother’s, daughter’s, son’s, or other relative’s grave in honor of their dying in military service has become something else. The somber parade to the cemetery or war memorial in the park has slowly given way to more festive parades with antique cars, clowns, and street vendors selling balloons and candy. The drive to the cemetery has taken a left turn and headed for the beach or the mall. For as much as I believe we should all take 9/11/2002 as a national holiday to go to memorial services to mark the first anniversary, I would be fearful of making it a permanent national holiday that might become commercialized and exploited by the time the 100th anniversary arrives.
No matter what happens this coming September 11, I encourage everyone, everywhere to observe it with both caution and solemnity.