September 11th is being trampled on. It started with the conspiracy theorists and their wild, ridiculous, and unsupported accusations. It continued with an invasion of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attack. It was sullied by Rudy Giuliani's insipid and infuriating use of that day as a rallying point for his Presidential bid. It has had dirt cast on it by the ignorant and hate-inspired ramblings of those who would oppose a Muslim cultural center in the same general area as Ground Zero, even though it would not be visible from the site, and would be there to promote peace and understanding. And now, as a pièce de résistance to the creeping morass that engulfs the day, a pastor of a fringe "Christian" sect has been allowed to co-opt the narrative with his reprehensible and ridiculous idea to burn Qurans on the anniversary, which has only served to inflame the passions of devout Muslims with its offensiveness.
The World Trade Center Towers, symbols of American preeminence and pride, linchpins of the lower Manhattan skyline, victims of hatred and hubris, are being torn asunder once again, not by planes loaded with volatile fuel, but people filled with volatile rhetoric. Unlike when Francis Scott Key was moved to write The Star Spangled Banner, this moment, which could have been made the rallying cry for further unity of purpose and of people, has been turned into a divisive and discordant event. The shock, and dismay, and grief of the day, has been replaced by hyperbole, bigotry, and hypocrisy.
I was there, in that city, on that day, miles from the epicenter of destruction, but still tied to it by the company I worked for, which had a large amount of office space in the World Trade Center, and by memories of the very first job I held in New York City, not far from it. I had lunched amidst their tall shadows. I had marveled at their sheer height, and bulk, and beauty against the sky. I had shopped in the Borders bookstore there, and still have the bookmark I received when I made my last purchase there. Those buildings were as much a part of me as anyone, for beneath them I had heaved a sigh as my first job in Manhattan went away, the company shriveling up as so many did at the end of the Dot Com bubble. On the day I filed for unemployment, I walked all the way from Midtown to Downtown, just to stand near them, and try to absorb, even minutely, their strength. Ever night, when I walked along the heights across the Hudson River in New Jersey, I would look longingly toward them, towering in the dark, hoping I would return.
Then they were gone.
As much as one can feel for those who lost loved ones that day, and my heart is forever scarred by the thought of the pain they suffered, especially those whose family and friends had to experience the suicidal plunges of the planes they were riding on, the death those people suffered was merciful and at least they know that those they loved are in a better place, brought to peace. For those of us who lived, even those of us who were not covered in dust, showered in concrete, or standing amidst the paper falling from the sky like snow, the death is slower, more tenuous, and more painful. For though we bear not a physical scar of the day, a part of us died that day, too. A small part, to be sure, but in us lies the death of our innocence and the world we know. Hopes, aspirations, peace, tranquility, shattered just as sure as steel was shattered by the force of an airplane impact.
Perhaps it was good that our naiveté died that day, that, not unlike Pearl Harbor, we were brought back to the reality of our place in the world. However, the price we paid was the opening of Pandora's box, loosing a new round of the evils of humanity into the daylight. Bigotry, hatred, intolerance, ignorance -- all these things that had lain dormant, not cast back upon the wind, to rain down on a hapless and anxious country. It was not long before those who lived by these negative associations began to absorb them, and turn them to their purposes. The end result: a country that could have used such a horrific event to fuse itself together even more tightly, is, instead, tearing itself apart and chewing itself away.
If the mass death of the innocent is not enough for us to demand better, if we do not see this as the opportunity to unite as one, stand atop our loftiest principles, and say to our foes "you cannot hurt us while we have our freedom and liberty," then the anniversary of that day is a sad one indeed, because beyond the toll of mortal beings, and the remaining collateral damage of those of us who still suffer with the memory, there is the damage to the American spirit. By casting aside that which made us strongest, our dedication to our principles and our belief in our Constitution as the blueprint for a truly democratic country, we cease to be an ennobled. If we wish to wallow in the mud of our enemies, so be it, but that removes any honor in our actions; to do precisely what our enemies say we do, is to hand them victory in their nonsensical and reprehensible war against us.