I usually focus on an array of things that 9/11 brings up, and lately, especially in the last few years, it feels like it’s been a case of time passing a little too quickly. On one hand – great; there’s been a lot of progress in getting the memorial site up, but on another hand, it’s dismaying that it took too long, and how some people had taken the date and used it for their own agenda.
It became one of those “Where were you when” dates. 9/11/01, I was in school. Typical day, typical classes, typical feeling of not enough coffee. And then suddenly the entire school went still. And my high school was about four thousand people, maybe more. You know how you walk into a room and within a few minutes, the tension could be cut with a knife? When this happens in a building with four thousand plus people in it, it’s not an impression you forget, and that morning was like that. One of the girls in my class pulled out her CD player/radio and tuned in, and kept us posted with the news. Then everyone was evacuated, and I ran for home. And one of the details I remember very clearly was this…smell. Acrid. Like something burning. Even in the middle of Brooklyn, you could smell it, and there was some ash falling from the sky. Public transit was at a standstill; normally, I’d take the bus home from school, but that day, I speedwalked. And I remember dusting the ash off my shoulder, smelling the burning something in the air, and then seeing my grandfather’s TV set.
Everything made sense, and after that, the memories blur. My phone was blowing off the hook that day, home and cell. I don’t remember who was calling me, but what stands out was that there was a barrage of phone calls from everywhere. I don’t remember when or how I went to sleep, but I remember waking up constantly in the middle of the night, just thinking and asking, “now what?”
I still think it. “Now what?”
I’ll be honest, my readers and friends, sometimes I have no idea how the entire country could have gone from a pretty damn hopeful place to live in to what it is right now. Jobs were outsourced left and right. People are frankly broke. The price hike and inflation is making survival anywhere a challenge. The young college grads have next to no way to start out in the world, save for whatever menial jobs they can grasp onto until the mythical “something better will come along”. And I can’t even think about the economy; in a decade, the country has not only blown through Bill Clinton’s surplus, but earned a deficit that could render it insolvent.
Of course, in retrospect, I see the why, the how, and it’s still as disheartening as ever. What infuriates me is that it took ten years. Only ten years. It’s entirely, entirely too short a time.
Today is still a day where certain things go revisited. Even though some wounds had at least knit over, there are still plenty of sore spots about what this day symbolizes. Most notably, Bloomberg did not invite the first responders to the memorial because of space constraints. That, ladies and gentlemen, is an outright slap in the face. Let’s be blunt for a second: if the first responders didn’t show up, whether they were firefighters, NYPD, Port Authority Police, NJ PD, whatever, there would be a hell of a lot less space in the graveyards. This may be harsh of me to say, but this time, I have to put it like it is: had they not showed up, there would be many more bodies than survivors. It’s fact. To not invite them to the tenth anniversary commemoration is an insult. How many people are going to be there whom they had saved? And how do those survivors feel about the people who had saved them not being there? And why is it that only now is there a 9/11 health-related treatment center – and, considering healthcare being what it is, I have to ask myself just how much red tape people have to go through before they get treatment?
The building of the memorial I mentioned in a prior post, and I honestly think that it’s a wonderful thing. The tower is too starting to take shape, and I can only wonder what it will be when it’s finally completed. It’s definitely not the same site that I had passed when I was in college, and it’s definitely not going to be the same site that I had gone to once as a kid when I cut school and played the tourist.
Cortlandt Street station had also been fully restored and recently recommissioned into service. The R no longer ambles by the boarded-up space that looks to have been stuck in 2001. Whatever was left of the original tiling had been cleaned up and left as part of the station artwork, but the new walls and updated turnstiles are perhaps the only reminder that not so long ago, there was only blue-painted plywood there, guarding what was left of the station in a time capsule of debris.
But despite all the positive physical changes at the site, what I noticed the most as an after-effect is that over the past 10 years, the people’s attitudes have changed. Discourse is slowly dying; the more I see of politics and the news in general, the more knee-jerk reactions I see as opposed to an actual questioning and cross-examination. Fear is everywhere, and while I will not deny there being a cause, it’s gotten out of hand. Look at the news, look at the headlines, and look at the sudden spike of extremism in every culture. Everything that’s at the forefront is ramping up fear. Everyone’s scared, even if they don’t quite know of what. And after the announcement of credible threats for today, I can’t help but think, “Not again.” Not just because of there being a possible credible threat, but because there will be a metric ton of media influence telling everyone to be even more afraid. I saw how, after the tragedy of 9/11, everything slowly changed from “let’s get through and past this” to what could be best described as a nationally brewing case of hysteria.
Ten years of living in a near-constant state of fear is unhealthy (at best), and not just on an individual basis. It’s time to step back and reassess what’s really happening, and remember the old strategy: it’s easier to take a stronghold by stealth than by force. While the country as a whole is scared and not paying attention, things can and do happen right at home, under everyone’s noses, only to later elicit a chorus of, “How did I miss this?!”
It’s been ten years now. Let’s honor everyone lost, the victims, the survivors, first responders, and the unsung heroes, and most importantly, let’s look around at things closer to home. There’s a lot that’s been happening in the country while our eyes were collectively turned first to Afghanistan, then to Iraq, and most of it had passed under the radar so far. Taking care of home is essential, and it’s high time that America took care of its home.
In Memoriam: the victims, the first responders, and those who lost their lives on that day in PA, DC, and NY.