20 Years of 9/11

In point of fact, these days on 9/11 I don’t tend to think about it much at all, which is I think a healthy thing. It was a national shock and tragedy, and we are still living with many of the things it set into motion. But the day itself was twenty years ago now, and as with every grief, it fades with time. It’s not forgotten by me but I also don’t use it as an excuse to retraumatize myself. Today is a day for remembrance, not for refreshing the pain of the day.

Because it’s the 20th anniversary, and we tend to attach importance to round numbers, some people seem to want to use the day as a cudgel. In the run up to the day I’ve seen a lot of memes berating other folks for not being in, I guess, an appropriate state of reverence for the day. Most of these I found, of course, on Facebook, the home of amateur psyops (and of professional psyops made to look amateur enough to be shared). This caused me to write a post, which I will now share here:

Folks, reposting memes that pre-emptively shame people for having forgotten 9/11 is kind of a shitty move, and more or less an update of the “I bet people won’t repost this” meme dynamic that is so very deeply annoying and manipulative. I assure you that anyone who was alive and cognizant in 2001 has not forgotten the day. They will remember it in their own way. May I suggest you let them do so without further editorial comment, pre-emptive or otherwise, on how they choose to do it.

And indeed, I remember the day. I know where I was and what I was doing and what I was feeling through the whole thing. It doesn’t make those thoughts and emotions and memories any less real not to revisit them on an annual basis like the stations of the cross. It’s okay to let them lessen and subside and to let time do the thing it does. But if you do want to revisit them — if that’s you’re way of dealing with the day — then that’s fine too. Do what you need to do for the day. Try not to judge how others do the same.

Here’s how I plan to spend this 9/11: As if it were an ordinary Saturday, which, god willing, it will be. I plan to go into town with Krissy and do a little shopping. She’s out of coffee, and we need to buy a set of trash cans with lids and foot pedals because Charlie likes to graze out of our current trash baskets as if they are a buffet, which is kind of gross and makes a mess. I will remember the day — I’m remembering it now, after all, here, with you who are reading this — and I will also live my life within the day. Both the remembering and the living are important. The country came to a stop one day, twenty years ago. It’s all right to keep going now.

— JS

34 Comments on “20 Years of 9/11”

  1. I did watch some of The Today Show coverage this morning, but because zi watch them every morning. I did some weeding this morning. Now I will watch my hometown college play Army is football and then tonight I will watch my alma mater play. So, a regular Satuday for me as well, but it doesn’t mean I forgot.

  2. I had a moment where I went “oh, it’s 9/11” and felt sad. Now I’m avoiding social media for the most part (because uuuuuuuugh), writing, and spending some extra time hugging my kids today. That seems like a fitting way to spend the day.

    Thank you for saying this — I think it DEFINITELY needed to be said.

  3. I was zooming an online apiary visit, and the beek said something like “I’ll just note that this hive is queenright and we did a wash here on the cover, nine eleven” and went on without acknowledging that date and I was thumped. But I don’t suggest he was wrong. Maybe we come to the beeyard to get away from the world.

  4. Every year I pick up the book Portraits 9/11/01. It is the collected Portraits of Grief that the NYT ran daily for months. I read about some of the people who died that day, their hopes and dreams, the things they liked and what mattered to them. This tragedy wasn’t about the buildings that fell that day, it is about the lives that were lost. This is my way of honoring them by saying I see you, you mattered, and you will not be forgotten

  5. This is the first year that I didn’t deeply immerse myself in 9/11 commemorations.

    In 1987 a close friend died on September 11 and I marked the day every year. On 9/11 I said, whelp, that puts my personal grief into perspective.I didn’t stop mourning my friend, but I stopped the annual day of focused grief.

    Looking at the number of Americans that have been killed this year by the “current situation” I said to myself, whelp, that puts 9/11 into perspective. Again, I won’t stop mourning, but I am about ready to let go of the focused grief. Thank you for this piece. It really is “all right to keep going.”

  6. Very wise words. There’s a lot of darkness associated with 9/11, but it will consume us if we let it. There were many brave heroes that day too, moments of light to puncture the dark, and that’s what’s worth remembering.

  7. …and of professional psyops made to look amateur enough to be shared…

    Last week the university of Cardiff revealed research into a (gasp) Russian conspiracy.

    Just the other day I found that my local bearded barista, a hipster who likes to know things, was totally unaware that Russia had troll farms… to disseminate disinformation to deluded denizens of the dat burned social media world.

    Of course I refrained from leaning over the desk like a desperate Sarah Connor screaming, “It happens!” Troll farms happen. And folks don’t know.

  8. I’m very cynical about 9/11. It was a preventable disaster (there was intelligence that Bin Ladin was on the move and planning something involving airplanes), mired our military in two exercises in futility, and kindled a blaze of Islamaphobia that burns to this day.

    I’ll spare a thought for the people who died in the World Trade Center, but I’ll also spare a thought for the civilians who were killed by drone strikes in our two military mistakes.

  9. My memory of 911 actually isn’t that. I had been at the Millennium Philcon, the 2001 Worldcon. For reasons we left in the early morning on the Sunday, flying to Boston to pick up the connection to Heathrow that evening. With the day to kill, and baggage checked through to London, we took the boat across the harbour from Logan. It was a glorious lazy Sunday morning, and the city was utterly at peace, stirring like a lazy cat sunning itself.
    We didn’t know, nobody knew, that as we flew out from that evening Boston the terrorists were flying in. I choose to remember the feeling of peace. That’s what we lost, that’s what we should aim for.

  10. I think I’m being an asshole but some of the stuff I’m seeing really feels performative rather than authentic. What I really need to do is to accept that everyone has their own way of remembering and just leave it at that.

  11. Sorry, can’t agree. No one who lives in New York and has lived here since 9/11 will ever think of it as “just another Saturday” – but that’s fine if that’s how you think of it.

    I remember some years ago when Michael Bloomberg was Mayor and he decided that “enough was enough” and this year we are NOT going to read all the names. Well, that rightfully (IMHO) provoked quite the firestorm here and he had to quickly retreat. I noticed Bloomberg was at Ground Zero today.

    So no forgetting the day here, but I am certainly not judging anyone who does.

  12. I’m so sorry that you see that shit on Facebook. Fortunately I don’t use it for networking, and I’m pretty brutal about kicking people out of my universe for bullshit. I lost family, so I’m thinking more of them than anything. Also about Power Ranger actor Thuy “Trini” Trang died in a car accident on Sept 3rd, 2001. You aren’t forgotten either, girl.

  13. Yesterday at the school where I work, they came on the announcements and read a little spiel about 9/11 like they do every year and mostly it made me angry. I don’t talk about my rage about 9/11 remembrance bc obviously it is a day that comes with a lot of real grief for folks and it’s in bad taste, but mostly the 9/11 obsession feels to me like a screw you to younger generations. While I tried to keep my students quiet while we listened to the commemoration of an act of violence that happened before any of them were born, that I am barely old enough to remember, I thought about all the other tragedies that don’t count as tragedies. I thought about having these same students practice hiding in the dark so they’re ready for an active shooter situation, thought about the way my students talk about resignedly about the climate crisis, already accepting a level of suffering and instability the generations that failed to step up will never have to deal with. I thought about all the other violent acts in our country’s history we never speak of and how more people die each week in this country of COVID than died in 9/11 and how none of that will ever get an announcement. Because the generations with most of the power and wealth and political representation also decide what is a tragedy and what is not, and somehow the real tragedies never seem to be the things that hurt my students.

  14. As someone who worked a block away from WTC, it’s very difficult to forget the terror of not knowing the state of your coworkers. I also unfortunately have the smell of downtown etched in my brain, from being down near there smoldering rubble for over a year. I was lucky enough to be late that day, but as was stated, for some of us, it’s never going to go away. Do I think about it daily? Thankfully not, as I don’t have the prompts. But when prompted (an old picture, a smell, really crisp weather on this day) I can’t not think of it. Feeling the way I do, I can’t even imagine what war veterans deal with.

    I’ll tell you what else I recall though, traveling the following year, and how absolutely wonderful everyone was to me when they found out I was from NYC.

    I really wish more people had that sense of comraderie in today’s trying times.

  15. One of The NY Times writers noted it “shattered our sense of safety”. So I don’t make a big deal of anniversaries in general, but this was an inflection point for the country and for me. So just as birthdays that end in a “0” tend to evoke stronger emotions and reflection, so does this particular day this year.

  16. If you can find trash cans with lids that lock (eg., a simple latch that you can push with your thumb), I highly recommend them. My kitchen can has survived being knocked over repeatedly, both accidentally and purposefully, by a food obsessed older dogs and several young, curious dogs without giving up a single morsel of food.

  17. We’ve got a smart boxer and a stupid G. Pyrenees who haven’t figured out foot pedal trash cans in 5 years, here’s hoping it’s the same for you.

    And “The Speckless Sky” is one stunningly beautiful piece of writing.

  18. I live in NoVa, so it was a local story for us. Yeah, so damn quiet. For weeks after. Except for the CAP circling over the city…. Had one friend at the Pentagon, another in the Old Guard at Arlington.

    The local news was wall to wall remembrances this morning.

    Someone on the Book of Faces was making a big deal of teachers not teaching kids about 9/11 and I pointed out that when I was in high school in the early 80s we weren’t being taught about Pearl Harbor, or even any of WW2. Or WW1. Or Vietnam or Korea.

  19. I’m spending the day in a way Bin Ladin would have hated: watching baseball and writing a novel. He would have hated it because I’m no longer torn by grief. He would hate it because the world has moved on. And he would hate it because a woman is exercising her choices.

  20. What I usually do on this day is remember another day in 1993 when they tried to take down the WTC, and that is because my father worked in downtown Manhattan and took the Path tunnel from Hoboken which exited at the WTC. He was OK but getting home that day was a journey. He soon took another job far away. He expected them to try again. Chilling when I think about it.

  21. A friend posted a photo with two beams of light, and my addled brain didn’t get the connection to 911 since I also choose not to be re-traumatized with reminders. As you can imagine, my clueless comment of “beam me up Scotty” was not appreciated!

  22. “Sorry, can’t agree. No one who lives in New York and has lived here since 9/11 will ever think of it as “just another Saturday” – but that’s fine if that’s how you think of it.”

    I lived in New York 20 years ago – in an apartment close enough to the Towers that I literally heard the impact of each plane. I have spent the past 20 years TRYING to treat this day like any other day.

    Some years ago, when someone in my Facebook circle who lived back in my small Connecticut hometown got a little snippy that wasn’t it INTERESTING that it was already TEN AM and she hadn’t seen any one else post a ‘Never forget’ message, why she had already had her kids up and dressed in red and white and blue and they’d gone to church and….

    And I responded telling her exactly what I heard and saw and smelled and went through on this day back then, and told her that “honestly, trying to forget some of that is the only way I have been able to stay sane.”

    And even worse – I have been hearing people like her co-opt “what New Yorkers probably want” for the past 20 years, acting as if they know what I would want or not want in my own damn city. I’ve been hearing the hypocrisy of politicians talk about “our brave First Responders” one minute and then turn right around and deny those EXACT SAME FIRST RESPONDERS health care support.

    I CRAVE the day when everyone else in the country finally treats this day like a normal day – because maybe they will finally leave us alone.

  23. I had a small thing that I used to post every 9/11, first on LiveJournal and later on Facebook. This year, when I thought about it, it just felt like I’d be adding to the noise — so I didn’t. If people have something new that they need to say, or even something old that they feel needs to be said again, I’m fine with that. What I loathe and despise (and have loathed and despised since it first started, probably some time around 9/12/2001) is the haranguing to “never forget” — as if anyone old enough to understand what was going on that day could ever forget. And a special YES, THAT to commenter Angela — the way this one terrible day is somehow sanctified by pundits and politicians who continue to ignore a year and a half of daily 9/11s worth of COVID deaths, plus all the homegrown terrorist murders in the intervening 20 years, is absolutely disgusting.

  24. Approximately 3000 people died 9/11. The number of days at least 3000 have died of COVID must be well over 100 by now. We should be in mourning every friggin day, and yet most of us take no notice because it’s happening individually and alone, instead of with explosions and collapsing buildings. If you are remembering 9/11 today please also remember this disaster we still experience daily. And our enemies are domestic rather than terrorists.

  25. Spencer,
    I remember the smell too. I was on LI then and you could smell that smell for days after, because it took a long time for the fires to go out.

    I will never believe that the people who lived downwind of the Nazi concentration camps didn’t know. There was literally no way to escape the smell.

    Sean G
    I remember getting a phone call from my mom that morning, asking me to turn on the news and let her know what was going on because she was at work and someone flew a plane into the WTC.
    I turned on the TV to ABC, watched Peter Jennings get testy with the comm techs, finally achieve broadcast connectivity, only to watch the second plane fly behind him, out of frame, then return and crash into the second tower. That was when I realized we were under attack. And that I couldn’t get through to my brother and sister in law, whose subway stop WTC was. (They were fine. SIL had a case before the night court that day & was going into work later. Then they saw the news and didn’t go anywhere at all, except outside to see if any more buildings were going to be attacked and to decide which way to run.)

    Most of my friends went to a rental home of 4 people to check email, for messages from friends who were survivors, or who worked in the vicinity, because they were the only ones who had a private T1000 line, having paid through the nose for it. Most email and internet was all dialup at the time and all the phone lines were so completely overloaded that no one could phone anyone in the tristate area.

    Yeah, you really have to love the people and politicians who are all about the rhinestone flag pin and “never forget” but somehow managed to not pass the Zadroga Act until 2006 and then took two more tries to sufficiently fund it and extend it.

    Twenty years and I still can’t bring myself to go to the WTC memorial. I used to go to the WTC on a semi-regular basis myself, I really loved the Wintergarden in the World Financial Center.

    If 9/11 isn’t personal to you, that’s ok. I just can’t stand the performative patriotism or the people who are all “why aren’t you over it?” Dunno, maybe because you can’t actually choose not to have nightmares?

  26. I remember 9/11 very well – I’d passed my road test the day before, and Tammy and I had talked about seeing if the paper “temporary license” I was given was proof enough to rent a car for that weekend and go for a drive for the first time since we’d met.

    We got up in the morning in our studio apartment on NYC’s Upper West Side, and got a call from our friend Raq (Tammy based Queen Thayet on her!) who asked if we were watching the news, and that reports of a small plane plowing into the World Trade Center were all over it. We turned on New York 1 (the NYC local all-news station), just in time to see the second passenger jet turn and plow right into the second tower!

    Neither of us could believe what we were seeing, and we spent the rest of the day glued to both television and radio for more details. Raq called a few more times to check in, and a few other local friends called us as well to make sure we weren’t down there, or to tell us they hadn’t gone in to work yet when it happened or were on their way in when the planes hit, so they were safe. We had one person we knew who was in the building at the time, and walked down over eighty flights of stairs to get out of the buildings before they collapsed along with the rest of her office – they were really lucky, though it sure didn’t seem so that day!

    My office at the time was in the West Village, so I couldn’t go back down there for several days. The one image I will never forget is not from the television showing us the plane deliberately crashing into the building, but going outside that afternoon to see an endless line of people in business suits trudging up Broadway from Wall Street, like the dead in Abel Gance’s classic J’Accuse…..


  27. Thank you, John. I was in NYC that day (typing the minutes for the SFWA business meeting when the attacks happened). As others have said, I don’t necessarily want to talk about it. The performative “never forget” shit is insulting. I will never forget–no one else is likely to, either. But people mourn differently, and time gentles things. As one whose birthday, December 7, was supposed to go down in infamy (and did for a while) I see no problem with letting everyone deal their own way.

    I mourn the goodwill we squandered with the world, what happened to the brief moment of solidarity in my country.

  28. Well, it’s our wedding anniversary, so we’re not about to forget the date. But by the same token, we’re not eager to take part in public remembrances. On September 11, 2001, we had made reservations for a dinner at a restaurant we’d dined at with pleasure several times before. That dinner never happened, of course; but we like to make up for it.

  29. Do I remember? Yes. Do I think about it? No…. Thank you for this… and for the 9/12/2001 essay. Have a pleasant weekend.

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