Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years and 2000 miles later

On the 10th Anniversary, it seems obligatory to do a blog post about 9/11/01.  But my memories related to September 11th do not start that morning. 

My thoughts start two weeks before that day, when I finished reading Angles and Demons.  For those unfamiliar with the book, a very devoted Catholic stages an attack on the Church in order to revitalize the Church community and support for the church.  I remember finishing that book and thinking, “America needs something like that.”  Tired of people being ashamed of our country, of flags being uncool and patriotism being dead – and this was before I moved out to the Bay – it seemed that the last time our country had been supported by its people was World War II.  We need a cause to rally behind.  I didn’t expect us to get one, and I certainly didn’t expect it to be so dramatic.

The morning of September 11th, I was trying to sort out some credit card bills.  I called the customer service line.  The lady on the other end was all distracted.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “we just heard about the World Trade Center.”  “But that was years ok,” I thought, thinking of the parking garage bombing.  Then my roommate came rushing into the room, let out of her 8am class early.  “Did you hear?!”  “Hear what?”  She turned on the small tv atop our dressers.  Every channel, every single one, was showing the same thing, the clip of the second plane hitting.

There was lots of excitement, people running down the halls, exclaiming any news they’d gotten that others might not have yet.  Candlelight vigils on the campus’s Main Lawn.  Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” moved even those that hated country music.  American flags everywhere, not just cool again but practically required.  It was a cause to rally behind, and for most of us at my small Midwestern school, that’s all it was.

Ten years ago, I hadn’t been to New York.  I didn’t know anyone in New York.  I didn’t know anyone who would be on an international flight.  New York was like Harvard, a place that only existed on tv and in the movies.  It wasn’t until this week that I learned the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field was bound for SFO.  Even if I had known, it wouldn’t have mattered.  As a Midwesterner, I scorned those people on the coasts who flew from one side to the other, treating real Americans like they didn’t exist, “fly-over-country” nonsense.

Ten years later, I’ve been to New York.  I’ve seen the World Trade Center hole, and not because I went there to see it, but because it’s down the street from my friend’s dad’s office.  I know people there.  I know people who are frequently on international flights, including friends and family, and me.  I know some of the “coastal people,” heck, I’m even friends with them.  And while I still disdain the fly-over-country mentality, I don’t hate them.  Ten years later, the events are more real than they could have been to a sheltered twenty year-old.  And sadly, ten years later, the flags are mostly gone again.

I liked that patriotism; I’d like to see it back.  But I don’t expect it anytime soon.  It’s impossible to be both an apologetic and a patriot, and the loudest voices in our society are still demanding we be the first.

September 11th, 2001 may have given us a rallying cry on which to rebuild our patriotism.  But the events of the next 9 years destroyed it all again.  John Yoo said we’re safer and freer now than we were ten years ago.  He’s a good speaker, but I disagree.  When I feel trapped in my city because transportation out of it is either too long or too anxiety-filled due to the “heightened security measures” – not the risks, the measures – I do not feel safe or free.  I never feared the terrorists; I fear TSA.

They won. We have lost both our patriotism and our freedom.

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