I've been kind of avoiding this topic because I didn't want to wade into the fray, but I've been increasingly miffed at the suggestions that, because life does not grind to a halt, Americans are supposedly not remembering September 11. (You notice how I say "September 11" instead of "9/11"? That's because I find a catchy gimmick, whether it be "9/11" or "Patriot Day," to recall the date disrespectful.)
During September 11 and the days after, many Americans were suffering from Post Traumatic Shock Disorder. Folks in NYC who had witnessed the tragedy, emergency workers who had lost many of their co-workers, families who had lost loved ones - all felt the weight of the horror directly. But others who witnessed the crash and the collapse of the Towers on television, who saw the people jumping in desperation, who saw the ash-covered people staggering from the nearby buildings, also were tremendously affected. We watched the footage over and over, we listened to 9-1-1 calls on CNN, we saw the shock and loss on the faces of people who were plastering walls with pictures of their missing loved ones in the hopes that they might be in a hospital somewhere, that they might be safe.
And eventually, the impact of this horrible event on the American public was so great that psychologists began appearing on CNN and other news stations, warning us to turn off the footage, telling us that, indeed, witnessing these events and thinking about them to such an extent could produce psychological problems in even those who were far away from New York, who had no connection to the people in the Towers.
The impact on the nation was so great that the rest of the world began sending us emails of support. I was on several academic listservs then, and each one received both official emails from academic organizations and schools abroad and also personal notes from individuals outside the U.S. (Remember that? When the world was on our side? Before we mucked it up?)
But even then, there were people who confused jingoism with patriotism, who thought that in order to remember properly, we needed to invoke the flag, and God, and who knows what else. It wasn't enough to be struck and affected and saddened and thoughtful. We had to be these things in a particular way. We had to be vengeful. We had to want to "kick ass" in return.
Even now, the tragedy is not over for many people who were affected directly by September 11. As Michael Moore's new film shows us, clean-up workers are suffering serious health impairment as a result of breathing toxic dust at Ground Zero - and beyond. Perhaps a more effective way to remember September 11 would be, not by lowering a flag, but by making a donation to the workers and their families, or by petitioning one's representative in Congress to pass legislation that would help Americans to get affordable, quality health care.
And now, the complaints about "forgetting" September 11 seem to hinge on whether or not a flag is lowered to half-mast, or whether or not we are judged to be accurately reflecting upon it.
As were many of you, I was one who watched the Towers collapse on television. I was glued to the set for the next week. I began to not be able to sleep. I began to not be able to eat. I was pregnant at the time, and I began to have serious reservations about the kind of world I was bringing my baby into. I have no desire to immerse myself again in the kind of despair and grief that gripped this country in those days. Nor do I see a solution in hoisting a flag and singing "God Bless America." I see a solution in moving forward, in reaching out to my neighbor and offering a hand. It may be trite, but that is how alliances are made. I will never forget what happenend that day, and, while I prefer not to dwell on it, I will never need ceremony, whether it be renaming the day or lowering a flag, to help me remember.