Monday, September 13, 2004

Recycled entry: my 9/11 thoughts from two years ago

I suppose I should've posted this on Saturday, but to be honest, I just didn't want to think about 9/11 that day. No, I'm not trying to forget the events (not that I ever could), but I want to remember that on my own terms.

It's hard to put my feelings about 9/11 into words right now, so I'm going to post a journal entry from the first anniversary, 2 years ago.
So the anniversary of that horrible, horrible day has passed. And it was one of the longer 24 hours in recent memory.

I went the entire day without watching any network TV. Watched a little MTV, some ESPN, some HBO, but I had to pop in a couple of movies because I just couldn’t escape it.

I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t need to see any of the ceremonies or news footage from that day, because the images that remain in my memory are strong enough.
I cringe, every time they show the planes crashing and the towers falling. I thought I was over the shock and I usually don’t get emotional about things but too much, too soon.

But what I remember the most are people. The screams that came from the office where everyone was watching TV. The scared look on everyone’s face, distraught co-workers trying to comfort each other and themselves. My internship director, Jaime, pregnant at the time, losing all control. The exodus of people walking as fast as they can, to some place where they can feel safe. The sea of people, filling the length and the width of Queensboro Bridge, all escaping Manhattan.
And on TV, people running for their lives. The fireman completely exhausted from hours of digging, taking a moment of rest before going back for more. A man calling every hospital, trying to locate his mother.

Those planes didn’t just fly into those towers - they rammed into our hearts and destroyed our sense of security. And for me, 9/11 will not be about buildings going down or about terrorism reaching American soil. It will be about that feeling of complete vulnerability, helplessness, fear that what we knew before no longer applies.
I don’t need television to remind me, because the emotional scars will always be with me, and I never, ever want to feel what I felt a year ago yesterday.

Another reason I couldn’t get myself to watch any of the one-year anniversary stuff was all the negativity that came out of it. All the things that I feared happened. Violence and general bigotry against Arabs and Muslims, the feeling of unity turning into hostility and jingoism, politicians using fear and vague connections to terrorism to force their agenda, advertisers exploiting the event.

And that probably explains why I’m so much more cynical than I used to be. Now, part of it is that I’ve been in New York for a full year now. But I generally try to go against the grain wherever I am, and I had been making a conscious effort to not let the city make me hard. The initial reaction to 9/11 represented all that was good about humanity - people helping people and celebrating life. But after the months wore on, I saw more and more of the ugly side of humanity.

I understand that my upbringing is different and I come from a culture where overt display of nationalism/patriotism is not encouraged. I’ve been in this country for more than 12 years but I’m still unnerved by the prevalence of Stars & Stripes.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe patriotism is wonderful and we should all be proud of our countries. But knowing the consequences of blind patriotism, I know I’m not the only foreigner who is a little intimidated.

So I went into the first anniversary of 9/11 with very mixed feelings. I had an obligation to honor those who died, yet I still hadn’t got over it emotionally. I didn’t want to be cynical but I wouldn’t have felt right to buy into all of the rhetoric.

Reading what I’ve written, it’s obvious I’m still very conflicted over 9/11. Right now, I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel, what I’m supposed to think. Maybe by next year, I will have reached some peace of mind. Or maybe I will never be able to deal with what happened on 9/11.

I’ve said this before, but to me, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are like an amputee’s toes. Amputees often say that they can "feel" sensations where their amputated extremities should be. And they feel their toes more than they ever did before losing them. To me, that’s the Twin Towers. I never really noticed them before they collapsed. But now that they’re gone, every time I look downtown, I feel the absence, and it’s painful.

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