Commemorating 9/11

I’m not going to talk about 9/11 itself. Everything that could possibly be said on the subject, already has been. What I want to talk about is how we commemorate 9/11.

It bothers me deeply when we single out a specific group of dead for special consideration. After all, the loss a family feels for a loved one who dies unexpectedly in a car accident, for example, is no less painful than the loss felt by any family whose loved one died in the attack on the Twin Towers. All too often, when we single out an event or group for commemoration, a process of division occurs. These people are “special” and we are told we must act and feel a certain way to commemorate that “specialness.” Inevitably, the “memory” becomes a tool used by cynical people in the pursuit of power.

This process began the day after 9/11 and has gotten worse as time passes. The only reason we don’t use the term “martyrs” is because religious discourse in the public arena is frowned upon in this country. Nonetheless pundits and politician talk about the “sacred space” and “hallowed grounds.” Of course any one with eyes in their head can see that Nagin’s characterisation of the WTC site as “a hole in the ground” is the plain, unvarnished truth. But to speak truth is blashphemy and the priesthood of 9/11 will have none of that.

That there is a campaign now to raise $300 million for a “9/11 Memorial” when poverty and homelessness in this City are worse than during the Depression, is only slightly less obscene than the fact that George W. Bush was allowed to get anywhere near this CIty these past couple of days.

Hence, when I see the public face of these commemorations I want no part of it. But as someone who loves New York, and who witnessed the attack with my own eyes, the pain of that day is something I share with all the other people who love this City: those who were there, those who are gone and those who came after but now call New York home. And so I do want some meaningful way to share that feeling with my fellow New Yorkers.

As I was walking home tonight from work near Union Square (not far from where I was that day) I found it. When I looked up at the sky, I saw a sight that nearly took my breath away. Once again, the two light beacons had been lit. Just when I saw it, a cloud had passed right over the lights. It looked like smoky fire, an eerie reminder of what we saw that day. It is the most beautiful and heart-rending memorial one can imagine. Go out tonight and see it.

2 Comments so far

  1. Catherine (unregistered) on September 13th, 2006 @ 5:15 pm

    9/11 survivors hold these large gatherings simply because so many of their loved ones died on the same day, in the same places and in the same ways. The media and the public “singles out” these events for those reasons, and because the events of 9/11 continue, and will continue to, profoundly influence foreign policy and world events.

    I see your point, but I actually see the 9/11 commemorations as a way for people to reaffirm the humanity of their loved ones, whether or not – or in spite of – politicians and their ilk who attempt to use these occasions as propaganda. In that way they serve as a warning about how very easy it is for any idealogy to dehumanize groups of individuals. The results may not always be dangerous, but the thinking is.

  2. AronT (unregistered) on September 13th, 2006 @ 5:39 pm


    My comments aren’t directed at the families who lost their loved ones in the WTC attack. How they mourn and commemorate is no one’s business but their own. I am talking only of the “public” side of 9/11.

    More people have died in “the same way and in the same place” and tragically so, in the war in Iraq. That war “continues, and will continue to, profoundly influence foreign policy and world events.” Yet this past Memorial day, like the ones before it, there was far more public attention to beach, barbeque and sales, than to the men and women who continue to die in Iraq.

    My point is not to debate which event is more important. Rather, this illustrates that the events opinion makers focus on for commemoration have nothing to do with reflecting on tragedy and loss, but everything to do with manipulation.

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