I have a fuzzy memory of September 11, 2001. There was smoke, I think. And running and school was let out early and a man offered to give me and my mom gas masks. And it was scary and there was a woman who was crying. I don’t remember much more. I was only three.
There is September 11, 2001 and there is 9/11. The event itself and our memory of it. The nation, it is said, is a place of shared memory – we live and we breathe and we rejoice and we grieve and every little cultural moment builds up into one, great, big society. Downtown Manhattan has recovered. The city bustles, surges to new heights, and the new One World Trade Center gleams and shimmers a mile high. September 11, 2001 has passed – but 9/11 lives on, a time for reflection, for national mourning.
I went to high school a handful of blocks from where the Twin Towers were hit, where the Twin Towers collapsed and thousands lost their lives. Where fifteen years ago, there was no more than a pile of rubble and debris and buried souls. But it’s funny: Now, a friend once told me, he orients himself by One World Trade Center. He is lost until he sees the skyscraper, at which point he is found.
Two wars wind down in the Middle East. It feels like a thousand more have erupted. It feels like we’re less safe now than ever, and that our nation is splintering, fragmenting, and that our place in the world is slipping away, our lives no longer under our own control. On the fifteenth anniversary of a national tragedy, a major party candidate pays tribute to the lives lost – and catches heatstroke, or maybe is ill, and…
Bam! Headline! Witness the politicization of grief, the weaponization of terror. The stronger the emotion – the anger, fear, horror, and panic – the better it can be used (By whom? By all.) to manipulate and control. The shared memory becomes a tool for division. What once brought us together risks tearing us further apart.
But we won’t let it.