Today is the 11th anniversary of the attacks in 2001 that killed more than three thousand people in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. Though we are now past the pivotal 10th anniversary, the annual observance remains painful.
People cope in their own way. Many attend memorial services. Some go to concerts featuring patriotic music and proud statements honoring brave first responders. Others perform acts of community service. Some try not to think about it too much.
I think of all these responses as human and legitimate.
My eye was caught the other day by MSNBC’s special “9-11 As it Happened,” where the cable network re-runs NBC’s coverage of the attacks minute-by-minute just as events unfolded. I saw only a portion, but was surprised at its power. Shocked and disheartened all over again, I wondered why anyone would sit there and intentionally re-live the experience. Especially since we all know the terrible ending.
Adding to the eeriness of the scene was the fact that I saw this play out while walking on a treadmill at an athletic club. MSNBC was displayed on just one of a series of screens. Right next to 9-11, the Green Bay Packers were struggling in the early going against the San Francisco 49′ers. I shifted my gaze back and forth from massive deadly violence against unsuspecting civilians to violence-for-fun-and-profit between rich men in costumes. Which channel to watch? It wasn’t a hard decision to make, but it was a tough choice to keep.
Had I been at home I would have changed the channel or turned off the TV. Committed to the treadmill for another 20 minutes, I told my eyes to behave. I had decided to live in the present moment, but the 9-11 replay was impossible to ignore. My gaze kept shifting back to it even though the I was trying to care that the Packers couldn’t mount a running game. Football never seemed more trivial.
We like to say we will never forget, and I’m sure for many that is absolutely true. But feeling what it was like to REALLY remember that day by seeing it play out in front of me again, I realized how much of it I have, out of necessity, pushed aside and watered down. In a society where so many of our games and entertainments depend on our blithe acceptance of scripted or controlled mayhem, it’s instructive to be reminded of how it drains the heart and wounds the soul to truly witness a genuine tragedy.
What do you do with 9-11? Observe it or avoid it?