My first attempt to acknowledge this significant anniversary of an horrific event was far too self-indulgent to post. However, the emotions I had suppressed from September 11, 2001, began to come to the fore in the past two weeks. I wrote them down and will deal with them. Just not here. That would trivialize the deaths of thousands.
The closest I was to anything that happened on 9/11/01 was three miles–the Pentagon was just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, where I worked for the Federal Aviation Administration. My actions that day and in the weeks after were those of support, and perhaps later I can tell that story.
People often remark that 9/11/01 was such a beautiful day–bright, sunny, cloudless–and that something so horrible shouldn’t have happened on such a glorious day. The fact is, the hijackers kept an eye on the weather; the horrible terror they perpetrated was easier on a visual flight rules day. How might things have changed had that day dawned cloudy and dreary.
The scenario the terrorists opted for could have cost tens of thousands of lives, and some have sighed in relief that it was only 3,000 or so. That is survivor guilt, that is the expostulation of someone relieved they were no where near New York City, Arlington, VA, or Shanksville, PA, that day.
I know the emotion of ten years without a loved one, and it heals; it gets better; but the hole never closes. I was an adult when I lost my parents nearly thirty years ago, so I can’t relate to losing a parent when you’re ten or fifteen or two. The lost opportunities to see school plays, sports events, weddings, births of grandchildren are weights hard to bear.
I hated the fact that religious zealots used as an instrument of destruction the industry I’d given most of my life to preserve, and yet, as I reviewed the pilot records for each of the hijackers, I saw typical men who trained typically as pilots. Nothing jumped off the page to shout “Terrorist!” Life is never that simple.
“Why?” is the question still asked about 9/11/01. As with other acts of terrorism, like, say 4/19/95, we take the easy, un-intellectual route–the perpetrators were evil. We never look beyond, into the black box of the psyche of terrorism so we can stop the next 9/11/01. We react. Restricting the carriage of liquids on board an aircraft, taking your shoes off at the TSA checkpoint, getting groped by perfect strangers doesn’t really prevent anything. It’s a false security. To me it’s a bitter reminder that we gave up freedoms to feel safe. Not be safe. Just to feel as if we are protected. We never once, as a nation, as a government, stopped to reflect on which of our policies or actions contributed to this.
You see, terrorism doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We like the neat package of “Oh, they were evil! That’s why they did it.” We know how and who and where. We’ll never know, nor do we want to, why.
If we want to honor those who died ten years ago today–from the people on Flight 93 who took their destinies into their own hands to the first responders who gave full dedication to their duty to those who died merely because they came to work that day–let’s re-dedicate ourselves to public service, to re-creating a nation of the people, by the people, for the people.