Where were you eight years ago (and one day) when the Towers fell? For my generation, it has replaced, “Where were you when the Challenger exploded?” as the defining question of our lives (at least until we elected Barack Hussein Obama as president).
Where was I? I was in California, the Bay Area to be precise. I had a phone appointment with my therapist at 9 a.m., Pacific mumble mumble Time. My roomies were gathered around the television, watching in rapt fascination. I glanced at the TV, but it didn’t register what I was seeing. When I finally reached my therapist, I found out what had happened.
The timing is fuzzy, but I was at the television and watching the second tower fall (live, I believe, but I might be remembering incorrectly). I watched as the TV machine showed the plane plowing into the tower over and over and over again. I lost count of how many times I watched the tower fall. After the tenth or so time, it became surreal–I truly felt I was watching a Bruce Willis action movie. That kind of thing didn’t happen in real life, right?
But it did. I called all my friends and family, feeling frantic when I couldn’t get through. I didn’t know anyone in NYC, not really, but I still had that panicky feeling. See, my partner at the time, John, had flown home to PA and was scheduled to fly back to Oregon, through San Francisco the next day. I was in a panic as I thought about how it could have been him on Flight 93. I called him, and I was relieved to find out he was fine. I mean, there was no reason he shouldn’t be, but yet, I couldn’t erase the feeling that he had been thisclose to dying. We talked a bit on the phone, and it just wasn’t enough. I needed to be with him, and I couldn’t. I wasn’t where I wanted to be (physically or emotionally), and it was devastating.
That was where I was that day. What happened next, to me, personally, is a little harder to relate. In fact, I hesitate because it’s going to make me sound… callous? Cruel? Heartless? I don’t know. Probably. It’s also true. With that said, here goes.
After 9/11, we had the goodwill of the entire world. Here is a beautiful website that documents the memorials created around the world, united in grieving for us. In the days that followed the attack, the best of America rose to the top. We all saw the images of people working tirelessly at Ground Zero to sift through the rubble in hopes to find a survivor, and, quite honestly, to bring the victims home. We saw strangers giving aid to strangers. We saw people doing whatever they could in order to ease our collective pain.
At the same time, I saw a disquieting trend in the media coverage of the event. When people were interviewed about what had happened, I heard over and over how shocked they were that this had happened in the United States. We are the bestest, most exceptional country in the world. How could this happen? If it could happen in the US, so the meme went, it could happen anywhere. Except, and no one ever said this, it did happen everywhere else in the world. It even happened in the US before (Oklahoma City, anyone?).
Looking back, I realize that this was when my sense of isolation crystallized and became my shield. You see, while I felt the grief of 9/11, I never felt the shock. I never felt my sense of security being ripped away because I never had that sense in the first place. I could understand (not excuse, never excuse) why people in other countries would want to attack us. People in other countries live with a sense of uncertainty on a daily basis. We, as a country, had been extremely lucky up to that point of never experiencing the same kind of devastating attack from outside our borders.
This is the hardest part for me to write. I didn’t feel personally affected by the falling of the Towers. It didn’t make me view my country–or the world, really–any differently. It didn’t make me love my country any more. In fact, I went in the opposite direction as I saw the mounting anger and lust for revenge grow in the aftermath of 9/11.
We had a choice as a nation. We could have taken the hit, grieved, taken practical measures to strengthen our safety, and worked with our allies to change the global situation in order to decrease the likelihood of an attack like this happening again. We could have risen to our best selves, in other words.
Instead, we caved. The thing that astounds me is how quickly we ceded our purported exceptionalism and dove straight into fear. Even in liberal blogs, there are people excusing the immediate behavior following 9/11 by saying, “Do you remember how crazed with fear, anger, and revenge you were that you would have done anything to feel better?” Well, no, I don’t. Why? Because I never felt any of that. Like I said, the attack didn’t change my beliefs or my mindset because I was already there.
Instead, for me, the fear grew when I saw how my government reacted to the crisis and how we, the people, quickly fell in line with the mantra of revenge. Do you know what I remember following the attack? I remember not being able to question the president, no matter what he did. I remember that if you did question the president, you were labeled a traitor and asked why you hated America. Soon, the measure of your love for your country was how big your flag was and how loudly you could sing the Star-Spangled Banner at ballgames.
Anyone who deviated from this was considered suspect, and during that time, I really learned to keep my mouth shut. I knew that I was working within an entirely different frame than most people (as is my wont), and in this particular case, I didn’t feel safe enough to voice my opinions out loud.
You see, I have no love for the flag. I don’t hate it. I don’t love it. I am, or rather, I was, neutral to it. It’s the same for America. Liberals want to say that hey, we love our country as much as do the Republicans, yadda yadda yadda, but I don’t. I don’t love America. I don’t hate her. Again, I am, or was, neutral. You see, I don’t love America because I never felt she loved me. As a permanent outsider who was constantly told to go home when I was a kid, I never thought of America as my country. I still don’t, not really.
The flag: I now have a distaste for it because of all the atrocities that have been committed in its name. All the people who wrap themselves up in it as a badge of their patriotism or bleat about Obama not wearing a flag pin have wiped it of any meaning for me. To me, when I see the flag, I don’t feel proud of democracy, freedom, and a pursuit of happiness. When I see it, I flinch a little inside because I think of the last eight years and how we, as a society, gave in to our baser natures in response to 9/11.
We listened to our president lie and lie and lie, and we elected him to continue telling us his awful lies. We cheered as he invaded Iraq, despite the ample evidence that he was just making shit up in order to have an excuse for said invasion. We watched (or didn’t, as the case may be) as we killed off thousands of brown people who had the misfortune of becoming pawns in a treacherous political game.
Today, the loathsome Glenn Beck is having his little 9/12 projects all around the nation. I am not linking to him because I just can’t. The gist is that Beck spews his hatred and vileness about what it means to be an American and how they, the silent majority (so silent they lost the election, it seems) need to take back the America they know, by force if necessary. We have the current president dragging his heels on prosecuting W. and his posse for the thugs they were–and are.
I look at the display of hatred, fear, intolerance, and racism from the ‘silent majority’, and my heart is heavy. I look at all the shit that W. and his posse did to our country in guise of ‘keeping ‘Murika safe’, bringing us to the brink of ruins, and I despair that we will ever be a country of laws ever again. I look at global goodwill we have willfully squandered, and I am angry because we had the world on our side, and we tossed them away. I look at Ground Zero, see that nothing has been rebuilt, and I hurt.
Today, I am contemplative of all that we, as a country, have lost in the last eight years, and I have to wonder if we can ever recover.