It’s the day that I dread every year; it can’t get here slow enough and it can’t go away fast enough but it arrives on schedule. For me, September 11th is all about when a major part of my life ended; several years of crisis and upheaval began; and over the past two years, a process of self-understanding and healing had begun. I am usually very somber and quiet on this day. I do a lot of writing, spend some time playing some music or composing a new piece, or just hang around with my wife and kids very grateful to be here and very thankful to be alive.
On the last night of the Republican Convention, a so-called “tribute” film about 9/11 was run which featured the more graphic aspects of that day. It was clearly an attempt to capitalize and claim political ownership of 9/11 rather than inspire and respectfully commemorate that day. It was exploitation of the innocent and the afflicted, and unbelievably insensitive at best, disgusting at worst. The MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann (who was anchoring the coverage at the time) was visibly shaken, he himself having lost friends in the attacks. He begged the audience’s pardon as he gently slammed what he had just seen. For two people who are usually not at a loss for words, Keith in the studio and I watching at home, were connected in our grief, dumbfounded silence and disgust. (Keith knew how to channel his righteous anger and disgust in his brilliant “Special Comment” piece on last night’s “Countdown”.)
My first instinct was to go and write a very emotional piece; the angle of the angry survivor taking umbrage. Then I realized that in addition to me being way to emotionally worked up to collect my thoughts and write something coherent, there had to be something better than the knee jerk response. I simply walked away from the Mac and hope that either I would collect my thoughts and go down the original path I was going to go, or maybe the muse would call me in a different direction. Perhaps inspiration would come from doing exactly the opposite of doing what I wanted to do. Every year I write a commemorative piece on the Anniversary of the attacks, and this year would be no different. In previous years, it was always about me: my feelings, my hopes for the future.
This year is different, because this time I will be talking about YOU.
The very fact that video was shown at the RNC suggests a lack of awareness of the part of most people in this country about what that day is really all about. Of course, it is a time to remember our losses of friends and family. It is a time to remember those souls who passed on who we may not have known personally, but who at some point in our lives may have come in contact with us; six degrees of separation and all of that. It is a time for those of us who survived and/or witnessed the events firsthand to try and come to grips with how much our lives have forever been changed. It is a day when all of America recalls exactly where they were and what they were doing, and to share in the sense of loss and remembrance. It becomes a sense of community and oneness. On that day we no longer belong to a political party; we are simply Americans, human beings who realize the fragility of life and the horror of the dark side of the human soul.
What the 9/11 Anniversary is NOT about is ownership of patriotism by any one individual or political party on that day. It is not about wanting to seek revenge against the Terrorists even more on that day than any other. It is not about promises by political candidates to do more to combat an unseen enemy, nor is it a time to solely laud our military and first responders all the while forgetting the thousands of office workers who continued to work in the Downtown Manhattan Financial District for years afterward. Thank God we haven’t reached the point of “9/11 Anniversary One Day Sale” signs in stores; but the way things are going in this country, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if that eventually happens.
You see, what is beginning to happen is the Anniversary is starting to take on a form of it’s own, shaped by those who happen to be in political power at the time. It is starting to lose it’s reflective and contemplative quality in favor of forced and manufactured patriotism. The coverage of the memorial services have been reduced over the years so that even now only two local stations in the NYC area will be broadcasting the ceremonies in their entirety. The media message is being narrowed like the end of a funnel, and eventually all of the meaning will have been channeled in dribs and drabs so that the Anniversary completely loses its meaning altogether.
As I said earlier, this is about YOU this year, not me. It’s about what YOU can do to help keep 9/11 a sacred day of reflection and reverence rather than a political showcase. It’s about what YOU can do to help by ensuring that the souls of the dead are respected as their names are read into the wind every year. It’s about YOU not falling into the trap of using 9/11 as a focus for revenge and a fear card to be trotted out at every opportunity someone in a political party wants to make a point about how we need to sacrifice our freedoms for protection. It is about YOU standing up and saying “Enough!” when you are asked to send a Son or Daughter off to a war that is about something that the United States has no business being involved in.
This is also a day when WE should realize that the answer to our disputes lies not at the tip of a bayonet and a gun. This is a day WE should count our blessings to be alive, and help those who are less fortunate; perhaps spend the day visiting returning Iraqi War vets suffering from PTSD and letting them know someone cares…because the Federal Government sure as hell doesn’t. WE allowed those brave men and women to be sent off on a Fool’s Errand, sometime pulling several tours of duty…all because we were lied to by the President and The Vice President…and WE did NOTHING to stop it when we found out it was a lie. WE questioned someone’s very patriotism when they did not support the War. WE allowed ourselves to become so distracted in Iraq that our very security at home was threatened because of a severe lack of National Guard troops. This all happened in OUR watch; we all share the blame and dishonor of being silent when we should have been boisterous. We cost thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis their lives by our complicity and complacency.
I am a firm believer that those of us who survived that horrible day were spared for a reason: we are Messengers. Not Messengers of God, or the Universe or any other Divinity or non-Divinity of your choice…rather, messengers of the Human Race. I believe we are gradually awakening to this fact; many of us beginning to write about our experiences (like myself), combined with a different view of the world and our lives as a result of 9/11. While I have begun the painful process of recalling the events of that day for a memoir I am writing, other Survivors I know have been braver and gone back to the site of the attack to confront their inner demons in an attempt to understand themselves so that they may perhaps help others. I see an awakening beginning to happen in other Survivors I know…and we’re beginning to talk about it more…not just about the events of that Tuesday in September, but what have been gestating inside of us over the past seven years. We are beginning to tell others that there is an awareness of self that was never there before, an understanding and compassion for others that has been magnified. A feeling that now, more than ever we need to be loving rather than hateful; that a connection exists between us as Human Beings that is stronger than any national border, religion, or skin color.
AND WE WILL NOT BE SILENT, NOR WILL WE BE SILENCED ANY LONGER.
For too long we have remained on the sidelines and stood by as our world began a dangerous spiral downward toward God only knows what end. We were there at the very beginning of all of this, and it is now time to step forward and try and stop the slide into oblivion that our politicians have put us on. The time has come for peace and justice, not just for our country, but for all nations. It is time to spread the message. It will come by way of blogs like this one. It will come by word of mouth. It will come by music and art and audio and video. But surely, the message will come.
All YOU have to do is listen to it, and pass it on.