Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering 9/11 and What We Lost

Six years ago, I ran for my life from the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. My fiercest feelings of that day--anger, fear, energy, bewilderment, grief--are fading. But there is one emotion that I feel slipping away with a sense of regret, and that is the tremendous sense of solidarity that I felt on the day of the attacks and their immediate aftermath. I attribute that to the healing power of time, the fragmentation that is so much a part of American culture, and the war in Iraq.

The acts of sustaining courage and kindness were many that day. I helped a man who was stumbling along in shock, then food service workers pulled us indoors from the choking smoke. I directed a lost woman to her sister's home, she shared her eye drops with me to take the sting out of my eyes. A woman in a deli loaned me her cellphone so I could call my mother and tell her I was okay. When I stopped in a bar to get a glass of water, an old timer bought me a drink because he said I looked like I needed it.

When I got home, the first thing I wanted to tell my children was that the extraordinary courage of ordinary people had seen us through the attacks.

We were all battered or broken that day. Only by helping each other could we make each other whole enough to endure.

I still recall 9/11 with great sorrow. But the beating I took that day has been lessened by the passage of time. I'm thankful for that.

We're back to our more selfish and self-centered ways for reasons that have to do largely with our media and our economy; the fragmentation of American culture under the pressures of niche media and niche marketing destroys the social bonds that are essential to a democratic way of life. But we'd be afflicted with this without 9/11.

What does bother me is the way that 9/11 was used to justify the war in Iraq. The war is a moral and strategic disaster. It isolates us, weakens us, and puts our country in danger. It has bitterly divided our nation in ways that I could not foresee on September 11, 2001. For me, the invocation of 9/11 to justify the war in Iraq casts a divisive and dishonest shadow over a terrible day when I saw people at their best.

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