This is the last year I will write my annual post about 9/11. I’m alive, and so are my family and friends, and thus I have the luxury of not remembering if I don’t want. And I do not want. I’m tired of looking up every time I hear a plane overhead. I’m tired of being startled by accidental encounters with 9/11 images in magazines and 9/11-themed movies and television shows, determined to wring every last drop of pathos from the event. I’m tired of the most vivid, horrible day of my life being used for political gain, to kill those who had nothing to do with the attack. I’m tired of the ridiculous squabbling over the former site of the World Trade Center. I’m tired of it all.
It is time for me to set that day aside in my mind, as one might lock away a dangerous and volatile chemical–one that should be monitored but not handled too often. It does me little good to reflect on that day; my thoughts turn dark and it is though a shade becomes drawn across the world and everything becomes dim. If you gaze for long into an abyss, Nietzsche reminds us, the abyss gazes also into you.
The message for me of that day, as I stood there–still stand there–on the roof in SoHo watching the Towers fall, is how little control we have over our lives. And that is a message one can either embrace or deny. I have tried both.
My message this year is exactly the same last year: Osama bin Laden is still at large and three thousand people remain dead and unavenged. Nothing has changed, except that more people have died for nothing. But I am not surprised. 9/11 was the excuse for evil people to do more evil. As the Buddha rightly noted, hatred does not cease in this world by hating, only by not hating.
I will close with a piece of my Year Two Remembrance, when I think I saw the event through the clearest lens: close enough to still smell the acrid stench of horror, but far enough away to turn away from it as well.
I also have something else: thanksgiving. I’m glad I didn’t go in early that day. Glad I didn’t get that job on floor 83 of Tower Two I interviewed for just weeks before. Glad I was not on a plane trip or simply walking by the WTC, like I did every day for a year. And glad I could make it home on September 12 for my daughter’s first birthday.
Thanksgiving will come early for me every year from now on. September 11th will be a day I remember how much I have to lose, and how quickly it can be taken away. I will remember the value of friendship, how I fled to Brooklyn and sought shelter at Sylvia Bachmann’s house. I will remember the feeling of walking through my front door the next day and seeing my wife and child. I will remember that although there are those whose hatred of us is so strong they would fly planes into buildings, there are the people who knowingly went into those buildings to save people. I will remember that life is precious, and that we do not not know the day or the hour or the way it will all end, so every day should be our September 12th: a day of homecoming, and birthday cakes, and the smiling face of a one-year-old.
Amen, and amen.