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Thursday, September 11, 2003

I Looked Away

We knew this day was coming. We circled it on the calendar and dreaded the return of some horrible memories.

But the time came, and I wasn’t up to it.

There were numerous references to the September 11 terrorist attacks, and I decided I wasn’t going to listen to any of them – on radio, on television, and the rest. Whenever I heard a reference to what happened two years ago, I changed the station.

I didn’t want to hear it anymore, for a variety of reasons.

I was lucky enough, despite living in Washington and knowing a good number of New Yorkers, not to have lost any friends or relatives on that day. Part of me felt as if I had far less of a “right” to grieve or even to commemorate the attacks than those who lost spouses, children, loved ones and friends. It just felt selfish in a way, like how showing up at a stranger’s wedding reception and eating their food might feel. It’s more their day than it is mine.

Last year was different. Last year, I attended a moving photographic exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of pictures taken in New York on or shortly after 9/11. I wrote extensively about how the first anniversary made me feel. I replayed the airplanes slamming against the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon, the crumbling twin towers, the wreckage that remain in their aftermath, in my mind, over and over again. I watched a commemorative television special.

But not this year. I wanted no part of any of it.

It was not denial – living a mere four miles from the Pentagon, I couldn’t very well refuse to acknowledge the horrible events of that day.

Nor was it some notion that I or anyone else needed to “get over it,” for any reason Humans express their grief in innumerable ways. I neither expect nor demand anyone take the same approach to dealing with the events of that day in the same fashion in which I have done so.

Nor was it apathy – I would question my humanity if I could ever feel apathetic towards such an event. It will be an experience that I will be relating to those who come after me for the remainder of my natural life.

It’s none of those things. I think it is fatigue. It is fatigue at trying to comprehend the overwhelming nature of this catastrophic event, the immense scope of its far-reaching implications, and the awesome sense of despair that lay in its wake. Even the strongest adjectives I could employ would seem to fail to convey the proper level of emotion.

But it is more than that as well.

I grow tired of seeing this tragedy being used as a justification for wrongheaded and counterproductive policies, both foreign and domestic.

I grow tired of seeing this tragedy being exploited as a tool of crass partisan politics.

I grow tired of seeing this tragedy being wielded as a club to bash minorities, immigrants, dissenters, or anyone else deemed somehow less “patriotic” than the sort of American who believes everything his government spoon-feeds him.

And I feel like every time I dwell on that day and its events, I give those who would manipulate our grief into emulating the polarizing creed that sees only the pure righteous against the pure wicked more fuel for their bonfires. It is this creed that was drummed into the men who hijacked those planes and collided them into those buildings, and those who admire their deeds. And it is this creed that will serve only to divide us and ultimately to destroy us, from within if not from without.

So I changed the station. Your mileage may vary.


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