I am thinking about the September 11 attacks and reminded of my awe at all the people who helped and rushed downtown and gave so much, including their lives. For those who are still here, the toll is hard in its own way. Mary, who was a first responder that week, was wondering today if the people shaken by those days ever worry that the scars from that time keep them from giving their best in the present.
My own worry is that all of us, and the country, and our culture, have internalized and accepted a culture of anxiety and “victim’s exceptionalism” that justifies small moments of selfishness and awful acts of political and geopolitical meanness.
Not to mention the tragedy porn that we’ve all been subjected to. Look at the homepage of USA Today right now. I have the deepest respect for the people who lost loved ones that day, the fallen victims and responders, and the soldiers and civilians of dozens of nations who have died or suffered in the years since as a direct result of that day and the actions that followed. But can anyone else wring their hands and forget others’ pain the way Americans can?
A project I worked on post-9/11 gave me the opportunity to meet Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association. His work is a response to war and tragedy that I can believe in. Check out the honest, funny, wide-hearted writing of Abby Carter, who lost her husband and the father of her two kids that day. Consider the impact of our response to the attacks, on America’s reputation, our civil liberties, and our approach to government.
Here’s what I wrote that week. We said “Stay safe” to each other a lot then and in the weeks after. (I still say “Safe travels” to friends and colleagues who are flying, which I never did before that day.) But ten years on, remember all the things we need to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from, besides planes used as missiles or lawless fundamentalists–remember that grief heated to rage and pain rotted to retreat are also weapons of terror. Watch your own heart, not just the skies. Consider turning away from the glare of after-images. Stay safe.