Friday, September 11, 2009

THAT day

I woke up this morning, and immediately I thought, "Oh. It's THAT day."

September 11.

The day I doubt any of us will ever think of as just another day. Nor should we. May we never.

I'm going to avoid the news a lot today - I don't think watching the old video of the towers falling again is going to help me. (It probably is important they show it, especially for people who were a lot younger then - like some of my students - who might not remember it, who might get swayed by some of the "truther" ideas)

I have to say I was relatively unaffected. I did not see (in person) the event happen, I only sort-of-knew one person who died.

But I do think it was a wake up call to the nation. The idea that there are people out there who hate you because of what you stand for, and that some of them have no compunction about seeing you dead (and about killing themselves to make you dead) is not an idea that it is easy for Westerners to accept, I think.

I know it's one I don't want to accept. But based on what I've seen and read, I have to accept that it exists.

What I know I don't want to see is that different parties use this day for twisted political ends. Oh, I know it's going to happen - it's already happened, there is one allegedly-conservation-related group WITH WHOM I AM VERY ANGRY RIGHT NOW who used it in that way.

And I don't want to see the day become trivialized or oversentimentalized. I don't want to contemplate the thought that in 50 years, "Patriot Day" (which is what some people want to call this day*) will be a day of sales (And I admit some annoyance that "Presidents' Day" has become that). I know, we haven't done that with Pearl Harbor Day. (But how many people of my generation and younger know Pearl Harbor Day?)

*(Patriot Day is probably better than other options. And I suppose in the future we will need to "name" it so that newer generations know it's a different day. I will always think of it as "September 11" and that is all the reminder I need)

Two things stand out in my mind:

first, one of my students, not too long after September 11, when they had the final death toll published, remarked in horror and amazement: "That's more people than live in the town I came from. That's like if everyone in my home town was wiped out and then some."

second, the people on the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. What kind of courage and willingness to sacrifice yourself that would take. To know you are going to die, but to proceed anyway, because you hope you can save more people. I hate to say it but I think I would be so paralyzed by horror in that situation that I might not be able to act. It's one of those things that makes me feel strange in the pit of my stomach to contemplate - having to decide to do things that you know will hasten the end of your life because you HAVE to. Because it is probably the only way to protect other people.

I do think we need to be reminded that the "squishiness" we have in our society - where we are willing to tolerate so much that we even tolerate some things that should perhaps be intolerable - doesn't exist everywhere, and that you can't just shrug at everything and go, "It's their culture, dude." There are some things we need to say "no" to, or else we risk endangering ourselves. Or we risk allowing influences in our culture that are not compatible with what we believe as a nation.

(I have a friend who is British. She says sadly that "going home" is too painful for her any more; the place where she grew up has changed too much. And I think also of the British colonel in India, who, upon hearing that an upperclass Indian man had died, and the man's family was going to commit suttee, the traditional practice of throwing the (living) widow on the man's pyre to be burned with his body, said, "You may have that custom. Well, we have another custom. When a man kills a woman, we build a gallows and hang him." There are some things, I think, that are intolerable and we should not tolerate. The trick, of course, lies in deciding what is intolerable. But I would suggest "honor killings" as a start...)

I know other people, who have more experience with the events of the day, who are more politically astute than I am, will say better and more intelligent things, but I think we need to take note of the day. And we need to work against any "truther" influence, we need to keep reporting the real truth - that Islamic terrorists hijacked planes, flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, destroyed one set of buildings and damaged another, and killed thousands of people. And that another plane, bound for another target, was taken down in Pennsylvania by the self-sacrificing actions of the people on board.

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