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.