Father's Day, Mother's Day, Veteran's Day, President's Day, Grandparent's Day (which also happens to be on the eleventh of this month) and finally September 11. A day when we discharge our obligation to remember and honor something very important and move on.
September 11 is the day we lost. Lost our self-assurance, our sense of invulnerability, our loved ones, our towers and our optimism. And we gained surprisingly little. Like Londoners in the Blitz, it was in our grasp for a moment. That sense of camaraderie that comes from being a nation under fire. A city filled with ethnic rivalries ever since the Dutch and the English taunted one another on streetcorners where everyone values their personal space, suddenly became one. We had all lost, but we also had a common enemy. We were at war.
That has become the second loss of that day. The first loss is what they did to us. The second loss is what we did to ourselves.
You walk down the street on a fine day with a breeze in the air and the warm scent of muffins drifting from a nearby bakery and someone punches you in the back of the head. Shock is your first reaction. Then anger. "Why did they do this to me", turns into, "I'll get the bastards". But what if you never get angry and stay shocked. Then what happened to you never takes on any meaning. You remain helpless and hurt.
September 11 has become the day of permanent shock and enduring hurt, where we struggle with our pain because the nation has been told not to get angry, warned not to judge or lay blame for the atrocities of the day on its perpetrators. It has become the day we stare at our televisions, at our screens or at the ground in front of us and try to make sense of why we were hit in the back of the head.
Is it something we did wrong? Did we deserve it? Down into the coffins of stone we stare and can only contemplate the impossible mysteries of mortality. Where do we go when we die? Why do bad things happen to good people?
The same useless questions go round and round and the same events are relived over and over again in a national purgatory of pain. Unlike Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Belleau Wood, Gettysburg, there is never any sense to it because there is no larger meaning. Only the remembrance of the day when we were attacked by people we shouldn't talk about for reasons that don't bear examining. And there is nothing but the pain.
Endless pain is helplessness which can't be healed, only repressed and eventually forgotten. And so we dedicate one day, one week, to reliving the events to the extent that we are allowed to relive them, and then the wound must be scabbed over and off we go to work, shopping and cheerfully greeting our Muslim neighbors who are in no way associated with the events of the day. "Hi there!" "Salaam Aleikum."
But still there is the ache in the back of the head that won't go away. Someone hit us. Who. Why. What can we do about it? We can line up and take off our shoes and let the nice man grope us in the hope that people whose identities we don't discuss won't find a way to kill us on this flight. It's just another day in another week in the tenth year after our lives changed in ways we don't talk about.
Repression makes healing impossible. It fills us with a poison that turns us against ourselves. To be helpless is to learn self-loathing and then when you are hit on the head, you nod because you know why you were hit. Because you deserved it.
Self-hatred is one answer to the larger questions of pain and evil. If you accept that you are an awful person and deserve everything that is coming to you, then there is no longer any shock, only the slow atonement of pain and suffering. The more you are hit, the more you deserve it for all your support of tyrants and arms sales to Israel, women who walk in front of a man and cartoons that mock prophets. Hit me again, I deserve it. Better yet, hit one of those red state chaps who reads the bible and has never read anything by Karen Armstrong or Richard North Patterson. Take him, not me.
Another day. Another appeasement. A Ground Zero mosque, what a fine idea. What better way could there be to repress the knowledge of what actually happened than with such glorious constitutional masochism.
The calendar flips, and the shock is still there. It is only when you get angry that the shock lifts and the helplessness goes away with it. It is only when you realize who hit you and get angry over it that you become yourself again. Until then there are tears and bewilderment, grief and sorrow at this terrible tragedy. Why did they have to die? Who knows. We don't talk about it. No one is supposed to talk about it.
Brush away the repression of the political center and the masochism of the political left, and you find the angry heart of a nation beating underneath. It's deeper in Europe, there you have to dig for days to come up with more than clenched teeth of people who have been taught for generations to grit their teeth and grumble quietly about inconsequential things.
Americans though have not learned to be silent. The self-censorship so common in Europe is found here only in a small educated class that has spent too much time sitting through faculty meetings and attending sensitivity seminars. Instead there is the bafflement of people who have been lied to over and over again, and know that they are being lied to, but still can't quite understand why they are being lied to and how deep the lies go.
Who are you going to believe, your common sense-- or the media and politicians of both parties, academics, writers, poets, pundits, billionaires, CEO's, diplomats, generals, princes, celebrities and everyone else who is important but you've never met in person? Could they all be lying to you? And if they are-- isn't that as big of an attack as September 11. If not even bigger?
Choosing between the solipsism of common sense and the consensus of self-deceit is a tough one. It is easier not to choose, to immerse yourself in grief while doing your best to be reasonable about it. And the anger sinks into that porridge of confusion and grief-- the murky waters of the commemorations officiated over by sorrowful politicians who use words like courage and tragedy, who remind us that we can recover from anything. And we have, haven't we?
Sure the Twin Towers aren't coming back. There will be tall buildings there, but they won't be them. Because we're moveon.orging past all that. We don't need the Towers rebuilt and we don't need to smash those behind this. It's enough that we killed some of them and took out their leader. And if we line up when we're told and drop our pants on command and always carry our ID's-- then maybe next time they'll fail. Because that's what courage means, doesn't it?
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” Giuliani read. And what time and season is it now, and what purpose do they serve?
There was a time when we were angry and we were told not to be angry anymore. There was a time when we went to war, but then we decided it was more important to build nations. And now all we have is an endless craving for peace as we look down into the sight of mass death and come away with nothing but more pain. More shock and sorrow.
"When do we win this?" millions of Americans wonder. When do we finally declare victory. But how can we win when we don't even know who we're fighting? How do we win when we're not even allowed to be angry.
As shock turned to anger, and anger turned to the quiet bafflement of a nation waiting to move on. But where is there to move on to? We have gone to Afghanistan and Itaq, to the holes in the ground at Ground Zero. Over and over again we have laid the wreaths and bodies down in the sand and earth. We have laid our tears down and wept. And where do we go now?
Another day is here. September 12, 2011. Once again we can march away from the memorials and the memories and go back to work, shop in malls and say hello to our friendly Muslim neighbors. "Hi there!" "Salaam Aleikum."
But through all the pain and sorrow, throughout all the remembering and the minutiae of detail, it is not over.
We cannot leave it behind by grieving and remembering for a single day. We cannot escape it in a few years of war. There is no leaving it behind in appeasement or in tears. It cannot and will not be left behind until we deal with it. Until we deal with what it really means.
Today is September 11. Tomorrow will be September 11. It will be September 11 every day of every year until we are either destroyed or we wake up. It is the day we repeat over and over again until we wake up.
Today is September 11, 2001.