Nineteen years ago today, I was in my second week of classes in college*. I was starting my first day of work-study in the communication department at Loyola College. I had class at 9:25, but I showed up a little early to see what work would be like following the class.
I arrived just as the second plane hit. Welcome to Loyola.
Over the next decade, I wrote a handful of recollections on 9/11, and what our society had done in response, on an old defunct blog.
The response is key for a few reasons. One, we are defined by how we respond to adversity. Two, we culturally tend to remember the big, national and political responses — TSA, the war on terror, the hardening of the red-blue divide.
We can easily forget the immediate, intimate national response of grief and support, especially as time passes and fewer living people clearly remember the day.
My point? We don’t have to forget what happened on 9/11 to also recall the way we responded on 9/12 and in the following days. We saw a human instinct to help, to collectively solve problems that exists before bad habits and old rivalries smother it out. (We’ve seen some of this, but not enough, during this slower-moving, murkier pandemic)
We also saw a lot of bad responses, driven by fear or hate or by bad actors trying to take advantage of a tragedy. We can’t forget those, either.
I don’t want to be naive about the aftermath of 9/11. If fact, I hope the quote below conveys how disillusioned I was in 2007 about our overall societal response. What I do want to convey is that we can still influence the living memory of that time.
The 9/12 of our lives can be how we respond to any adversity, to any attack. Do we let that hurt control us, or do we respond with our best selves, even as we confront the threat before us? The 9/12 of our lives can be shorthand for how we try to pick up the pieces.
Anyways, here’s what I wrote in 2007 about the aftermath — what life was like on 9/12.
9/12 is America at its starkest, its best. Not just the patriotic coming-together, but the realization that life isn’t easy, fair, kind or necessarily long. And the corresponding realization that much good can be accomplished despite, or because of, knowing those cruel facts. Our bubbles, dreams and perceptions can be shattered, yet we can pick up the pieces. We can survive in a world without sports or plane travel, yet again return to them without being overwhelmed by fear or guilt. 9/12 was a day of overcoming paralysis to act, however one could, without a plan but somehow making it work. Those are things to remember. Right now, we too much wish to escape. The celebrity culture is peaking, not in the height of outrageousness, but the width of its reach. Any person can be a star, a public event to cash in and be cashed in on, because it’s like the bar never closes. 24-hour viewings, no charge, no thinking, no lasting judgment brought upon spectator or spectacle. Without the health risks. Physical, that is. Mentally, we suffocate ourselves. Emotionally, we shutter ourselves.
*For many years, I’ve remembered this the other way around — 9/11 being my first day of classes and my second week of work-study. But that paragraph is what I wrote in a separate 2006 post, so I’m guessing that’s more likely to be accurate.