The ‘leventh September
Airplanes and terror and plot.
I know of no reason
The two towers treason
Should ever be forgot.
I really hate it when people call it 9-11. “Nine-Eleven.” It sounds like the name of a convenience store. I’m not even sure why it’s so popular, other than the coincidental similarity to the emergency call number in the United States. Nine-Eleven has the ring of a sound bite, which is probably why it’s so frequently used. It’s lingo-y. Jargon-y. Insipid.
We don’t say “Seven Four” (which has a cool, CB trucker vibe to it). We don’t say Twelve-Seven either, just to cover the two most likely comparisons out of the way.
Of equal distaste is “Patriot Day.” Before September 11, 2001 I was good with the term. But it’s been co-opted by political actors and has been twisted so that “patriotic” means “people who agree with me.”
Whenever I talk about the day the world ended (if you’ll indulge a bit of dramatic hyperbole) I eschew abbreviations and euphemism. “September eleventh” is what I say. The “2001” part is unnecessary. For the last ten years, if you mentioned that date, it has been understood which day you meant.
It is an event that has occupied our national mind-set for this last decade. I don’t think I’ve had a single day of the last 3652 days where the thought of the disasters that happened hasn’t come to mind.
As a writer, I sometimes wonder if I should be ashamed that I am unable to find the words to communicate better what that day means. There’s a deep emotion that stirs whenever I consider it. Yes, there’s a deep love for my country. But that’s not it. Yes there’s a deep grief for the unnecessary death. Yes there’s anger that there are people who thought that not only was that death a good idea, but a righteous, holy idea. There’s mystification at how to make sense out of tragedy. Inspiration that there are those who can go forward. Tears of joy that there are people willing to sacrifice their lives to help others who might not even be around to appreciate it anymore.
Art Spiegelman created a 42 page biopic in graphic novel format about his reaction and explanation for that day called In the Shadow of No Towers. It’s a magnificent work, artistically interpreted and finely communicated. Nothing else I’ve read about September Eleventh is nearly so clear. Yet in all that, there are more questions left or opened than are ever answered. And his thoughts are very dense.
I can’t condense it. I can’t explain it properly even when I don’t condense it. We could speak for days, weeks, even years and not work out the meaning of that day. As a nation, we’ve tried for ten years and haven’t accomplished it yet.
When I watch movies or TV shows where something apocalyptic happens, particularly something like a nuclear detonation in a U.S. city, my mind still blocks it off. Despite the fact that I watch the events of September Eleventh unfold on my TV in real time, a part of my mind is unwilling to make the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept a story where Baltimore or Los Angeles is laid waste by weapons of mass destruction. There’s a mental block. Am I just unable to accept the reality of the world? Is it just the way I’ve dealt with not being terrified of the universe?
Because of all this, I don’t know how to react. I don’t really know how to honor. I know that there is a feeling in my heart. Some big combination of sympathy, grief, fear, admiration, love of country, and loss. I can’t begin to muddle out how much of each is in there or where it is. I have emotions in quantum states — I can identify emotions or I can identify the intensity of the emotion. I can’t do both simultaneously.
And that’s why I hate it when people say “nine-eleven.” When you wrap something as complex as the events and reactions of September 11, 2001 into a neat little phrase, you obviate all those emotions and thoughts and struggles. You minimize what happened and how significant it is. Saying “September Eleventh” is my way of acknowledging that there’s so much I don’t know about it, there’s so much I don’t understand about what I do know, and there’s so much left to feel about it.
So of course I’ll never forget. I can’t forget. I’ll never be finished processing my thoughts and feelings about it. That’s too big to forget.