Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Persistence of Memory

Business as usual today.

I’m okay with that.

There are places I could go, commemorations I could take part in, should I feel the need. But I've heard this date invoked in so many nakedly political speeches that I find myself eyeing any public ceremonies with skepticism and distrust.

I shouldn't, I know. People are genuinely grieving, still. But I can't do it in public, and I don’t want to watch other people do it, either.

I’m tired of remembering.

Remembering means walking through Penn Station and thinking someone might want to collapse the building around me. This huge hub of activity in the heart of New York, with trains entering it every couple minutes, any one of which could be carrying an explosive device. At any given moment, thousands of us could be crushed or trapped underground.

I walk past the Empire State Building on my way to work. Normally, it’s no big deal; I buy my comics across the street. But when I think about what happened six years ago, it’s a looming target, casting its shadow for blocks.

I’m lucky, I know. I didn’t lose anyone during the attacks. When I think about that day, the person that comes to mind is my father, lying in a hospital bed in Baltimore. It was the only day none of us could make the drive from Philadelphia down to visit him. It was the only day of his long hospital stay he was alone.

He died shortly after that. A month later, almost to the day. He had his own things to deal with; a lung transplant gone bad, nothing to do with the attacks. He moved on. And yet I think about him more today, perhaps, than any other day of the year. I remember that first time I visited, afterward, sitting by his bed and watching the news coverage. The first steps we were taking were good ones, we both agreed. Everyone was acting responsibly, in the public’s interest. As a country, we were being patient while we looked for evidence. As a people, we were being kind to one another.

I remember those moments, and also later, another night, sitting in that same room with him, watching an episode of JAG. It was the first time his TV hadn’t been tuned to the news, and I savored it. It was a little escape.

That’s my memory of September 11; that’s what I cling to, my life raft. An evening watching a TV show with my father in his hospital room. It’s not a very good raft, as these things go, but it’s what I’ve got.

Otherwise, remembering means looking at every public structure I enter with fear and suspicion. It means remembering my incredulity that we were going to war with Iraq, and my powerlessness to stop it. It means remembering my shame that we reelected the person who brought us into that war, who misdirected us so.

I’d love to forget what I learned that day: That lives are fragile, even in large numbers. That nowhere is safe. That you never know the day or hour, and that some people aren’t lucky enough to have the chance for goodbyes my family had a few weeks later.

And I wish I hadn’t learned what followed: How frightened people are easy to persuade, and how easy, and how tempting, it is for the majority to silence a lone voice. How given the choice between feeling powerless and scared and powerful and lashing out blindly, we chose to lash out. How willing we are to turn a blind eye to or excuse evil being done in our name.

So please, don’t ask me to remember. I remember enough, and there’s no percentage in it. Nor any peace.


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