I get into arguments over this every year when I write about it, and I’ve been writing about it for four years now, but except for the most glaring, obvious and unavoidable ways, I think that we, as a country, have largely forgotten 9/11.
The predictable arguments arise that we are still in a war that was a result of that day, that we have to get to the airports earlier, that we feel the effect of the Patriot Act and those are certainly valid points if I was talking about the effects 9/11 has had on our government, but that’s not my point.
When I say that we have largely forgotten the events of 9/11, I’m very simply talking about the hearts and minds of the people. In the cycle of grief, a psychologist would call this phase Acceptance. I can’t help but wonder if we’ve reached that cathartic stage far too soon though?
Acceptance is the final stage in the grieving cycle, and as the name implies, it means moving on. I think that by and large, we’ve moved on. And while that would be a good thing if this grief cycle was personal, I can’t help but wonder if it’s right for us collectively?
The indelible images of those planes crashing into those towers, the images of those towers crumbling to the ground are still and will forever remain in our minds, but they are a bit fuzzier than they used to be. They have taken on a movie-like quality, now that they are removed from the gravity of knowing that thousands of people had just died. The images are still horrible, but the result of those images seems lost and the lack of context makes them somehow weaker.
In an interview this morning on the radio with Mark Suppelsa, a local news anchor, I learned that on days like today, there is always heated debate about whether or not to show the images of the planes colliding with the twin towers because any time those images are shown, the stations receive complaints.
The country who claimed, “We Will Never Forget,” seems to want to do just that. Don’t show us images that might make us sad. We can have our moment of silence, wear our flag pin and talk around the water cooler about where we were at that fateful moment, but don’t make us watch it again. Don’t make us see the terror on people’s faces. Don’t make us think about the gravity of it all. Let us keep it all in the periphery. Let us talk about it like they were the events in a movie or a book we’d read a long time ago. Let us be detached.
It seems that once we reached the healing step of acceptance, that we, as a country, found it easiest to move forward by reverting to another stage of grief, denial. Grief is a lifelong process. It really has no end and it’s not uncommon at different times for people to slip back into different stages in the cycle, but we’re not talking about the death of a single person here. We’re talking about the slaughter of thousands. We’re talking about an execution. We’re talking about an act of terrorism—a word, coincidentally, that has lost it’s punch as a keyword in every speech given by every politician made since that day seven years ago.
Our elected officials have done a great deal to stunt our grieving. We’ve become so disenfranchised with the individual politicians who have so closely associated themselves with a War On Terror that we forget that it is a war. We forget our united resolve to see the perpetrators of 9/11 brought to death or justice that was so prevalent in the days and months after the attack—during our Anger stage.
I’m not one to call for war, or killings or violence, but I can’t help but ask the question—should our feelings about our government and the way they have handled the aftermath really equate to a free pass for those who have attacked us? Should we not still be resolved in demanding justice? Shouldn’t we be actively defining what that justice should be instead of giving blanket disapproval for an unpopular war? We choose to blame a single man because it’s easy and convenient and allows us to be free of guilt. He has played his part, no doubt and his blame is beyond question, but he is ours, elected by us to do as we want and so his failures are our own.
His villainy is so prevalent that we want to disassociate everything he’s done from our collective conscience. We want to undo all he has done. As with all politics in a two party system, everything is polarized. Yes or no, black or white, with us or against us are the battle cries of those in the argument, but I ask, if we look back and instead of insisting on an absolute at one end of the spectrum or the other, if we had insisted on a refocusing on the task that we demanded be undertaken—instead of the task that we had deemed to be of ulterior motivation, if that may have been something that we all could have rallied around?
We are a nation of symbols today. We outwardly show that we have not forgotten, we show that we are all patriots, we show that we remember. How shallow our symbols have become though. Time and frustration and revision have dulled us to what happened that day seven years ago. We call to complain that the images are too graphic when we see them on television. We are so ardent in our disapproval of a man and his war that we demand it end and fail to see a larger picture. We vacillate between acceptance and denial and blur the lines that connect them.
Despite the symbols we wear and display today, we are a nation who sees the events of seven years ago with blurred edges that threaten to fade a bit more with every day. We use our symbols to fool ourselves into thinking that’s not true, but it is, and I can think of no higher disgrace to those who lost their lives that day, than that our pettiness has so thoroughly faded the absolute horror of that day.
We pledged that we would not forget and I suppose we haven’t when it comes down to it, but perhaps we should have pledged that we would never distort—because that, we assuredly have.