This is the last time I will write about the events of September 11, 2001. That terrible day has taken enough of my soul, and enough of yours too. I was struck, watching the slow cascade of messages: “we will never forget,” “I will never forget,” “never forgotten.” The thought that came, unbidden, to me is that I want to forget. I know that the friends and families and colleagues of every last person lost on that day will remember them always, as they should. I will never forget how my knees buckled that night when I heard the earliest estimate of 485 firefighters lost in the World Trade Center. (It turns out the actual number was 343, which is still fucking awful.)
But I think we should stop picking at the wound. We should let go of our grief and move forward. As long as we allow this day to serve as a scar, we give power to those who dealt us this blow. Every time we revisit the terror, we are terrorized again. We are not honoring the fallen by refusing to forget. We are marking their deaths instead of their vibrant, joyous, ineffable lives.
On the 11th of September, 11 years ago, 2,996 people were murdered. It was the beginning of what had started as a totally ordinary Tuesday. And that left us stricken. No matter how many flags we waved, or how strong our rhetoric, we’d lost our moxie. We came together in our all-consuming grief. The cost of those terrible events is far more than their sum total. We have given up our freedoms by way of the ignominious “Patriot Act.” We’ve given up all rights of privacy if we wish to travel by air. We are searched before sporting events– anywhere, really, that crowds gather. We are always on alert that there may be another attack. As the years have passed, we are not as jittery as we once were, but we sure have not relaxed.
The inexcusable invasion of Iraq, which the administration justified as their “War on Terror” (though they knew that there were no Iraqis involved in the attacks of September 11) cost 800 billion dollars and the lives of 4,488 American soldiers. The war in Afghanistan (where Osama Bin Laden was rumored to be hiding) cost (to date) 443 billion dollars and resulted in 2024 American deaths. As for the civilians of those countries, few of whom had any issue with the United States, we have laid waste to their homelands and we have killed outright more than 132,000 of their friends, families and colleagues.
But we lost smaller things too, in the toll of September 11. Charities suffered, some closed outright and many community events stopped for that year or several years or forever because we were all busy giving our money to the Red Cross or to funds for the victims. It’s a natural thing to give money when there’s nothing else to do to help, but in a way, we caused more suffering by turning our backs on those in our communities who went on needing help.
A friend mentioned to me today that her husband’s birthday falls on September 11, and that they didn’t celebrate for years. My son’s birthday is the 12th, and the year he was seven years old, he really had no birthday at all- a store-bought cake, a few hastily wrapped presents given to him by parents with tear-stained faces. And for many years afterwards, his birthday was overshadowed by a day of national sorrow. Think of the children born that day (there’s actually a book about some of them), think of those who died that day but not in the conflagration– somehow their deaths, so painful to those who loved them, are diminished by not occurring in the national tragedy.
Never would I suggest that we not take a moment to acknowledge those deaths, that destruction, that utter horror. It was very touching this morning that all the news stations stopped their incessant noise for just a moment at 8:46 a.m. to allow us to stand with President and Mrs. Obama at Ground Zero. Well, except for on NBC , where Savannah Guthrie went on yammering with Kris Jenner (mother of the Kardashians, and famous for nothing) about her breast implants.
But we have mourned enough. We have suffered the deaths of an additional 6,512 men and women trying to avenge our losses of September 11. We have voluntarily given up many freedoms out of fear. Let us shed this cloak of national sorrow, let us celebrate September 11 as a day that they tried to bring us to our knees and failed. Let us celebrate being American. It’s time now, to let go of our grief.