Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's My 9/11, Not Yours

By Gaije Kushner

Having been in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, I’ve never understood the rest of America’s responses to it. Immediately afterwards, talking to people out there somewhere, they seemed to feel a little left out. They wanted to be part of it all somehow, without having to think too much about any unpleasant details. The euphemistically designated Patriot Day lets them have it all. They get a day in which to participate, without much requirement for contemplation of the first such day.

In Salem Missouri, a Patriot Day rally offers a pie competition, fireworks, and some appalling religiosity.

There’s no terror on Patriot Day. No fear at all. No thoughts of anyone on the second plane, heading straight for the North Tower, seeing the first, burrowed deep inside its own tower. No space left for hope, not one inch of plausible deniability, all taken over by terror. Nor of the fear that could push people out into the air, off of rooftops 110 stories high.

South Whidby, Washington promises, on Patriot Day, “This year’s event features a picnic buffet, dessert, and silent auction.”

There’s no meaningless death, on Patriot Day. The word patriot alone imposes artificial meaning, where none existed. Even implies a choice no one would have made. Not one of those 2606 people, inhaling smoke, crushed by falling towers, burned alive, or killed on impact, woke up that morning harboring thoughts of patriotic self sacrifice, not even all those first responders. Their deaths didn’t serve any purpose. There was nothing patriotic about any of it.

Scottsdale, Arizona sees things differently, telling us, “The Patriot Day celebration commemorates those brave civilians and first responders that heroically sacrificed their lives for our freedom on 9/11.”

Maybe the best thing about Patriot Day is its being just one day. Sept, 11th went on and on and on. The smoke, and smell, for weeks above the city. Missing fliers posted everywhere, before everyone understood the missing would not be found alive. Even then, it felt so wrong to cover them up with fliers for a show, an apartment to sublet, used books to sell. The New York Times series, “Portraits of Grief,” brief profiles of each victim, ran daily through the end of the year. Remains kept turning up for years, on roofs of nearby buildings, in manholes, in construction debris. Earnest James, then 40, was identified just last month.

South Florida residents can enjoy a Patriot Day American muscle car parade.
I still have a hard time understanding how Americans feel about 9/11. The trouble’s not so much with Americans though;it’s all with me. I just can’t see how it’s any of their business, ultimately. It didn’t happen to them. It didn’t happen to their cities. It happened to me and mine. Their attempts to mark the day, their pie contests and silent auctions, their American muscle car parades, demonstrate such a lack of understanding about what really happened. Compared to New York’s own more somber commemoration, a few quiet speakers, a moment of silence at 8:47 am, the time the first plane hit, then reading the names of dead, America’s best efforts feel like sacrilege.


  1. I believe I have heard many people expressing the desire to "stand with New York." And using your logic, it isn't your tragedy either, but only those who actually lost their lives. It didn't happen to you, only to those who died, or their families.
    Criticizing the trite way Americans commemorate anything,or the superficiality of American expression is subjective. Plastic, pie and hot dogs are things. It isn't about any of the things, or the parades.
    The use of the "Patriot Day" is a bit of propaganda. And the organized, scheduled events are across the board, some tasteful, some not so. But the radius of the trauma from the attacks on that day is very wide.
    What right do any of us have to feel anything at all, including you. Any of our feelings are overly self important in light of this tragedy.

  2. I'd agree, actually. It's not my tragedy. It's more like my incredibly sad, awful day.

    I don't buy the wide radius of the trauma. People who claim to have PTSD from watching the towers fall on tv are impossible to take seriously. As are those in Alabama, Iowa, wherever, who claimed to be so scared of an attack happening where they live. Ridiculous, both.

    It's kind of redundant to call an opinion subjective, as they are by definition. But it is still my opinion that having Patriot Day celebrations, pie contests, or fireworks. disrespects the dead, by taking them out of the picture entirely, when they are the only reason to commemorate the day at all. Give it another 5-10 years, we'll be shopping big sales on Patriot Day, ending the day with some end of summer fireworks. And I'll still hold the opinion that it's all sickening.

  3. Man, that's a relief. Actually I thought you had some deeper meaning I wasn't catching on to. I'm sorry 9/11 happened to you.
    I'll tell everyone else that they should just drop it until you post the rules.(PS. this response of mine sounds way more snarky than it is intended to be. I'm totally disagreeing with you. And I think your opinion on this is just as self involved as most. But that's pretty normal. It's kind of pedantic to call calling an opinion redundant... misses the point of pointing out the point.)

  4. You can't take what a few entities do, well-meaning or clearly not, and assume it applies to everyone. Any American has the right to heartfelt mourning on that day...any human being for that matter, who recalls with terrible sadness, and yes, even fear, all the precious, senseless loss of life. We all grieve together, admittedly, as always, some will try to profit and use anything for their own gain. I agree with you the way some choose to "honor" the lives lost, the families, the New Yorkers who experienced it first-hand, not just on a couch watching television, have indeed dishonored not only the fallen, but those of us who would seek to unite with those suffering families, New Yorkers, and say we stand with you and grieve with you, remember with you, feel with you, and fear with you. Even us Alabamians can sympathize with our very different, but beloved counterpart, NYC, and we do. Indeed, the President and Mayor called for that very action on that day of horror.