10/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Remembering September 11th - The Day not the Politics

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

5:08 pm - I don't own a TV and that might be an act of arrogance. I figure that if the news happens, I am well enough connected that I'll know about it one way or another. I live in New York after all. If some elderly Belarussian grandmother is mugged on her way back to her flat in Minsk, someone in the city is probably talking about it. It means that I have to look for news though. I must seek out relevant URL's rather than sit back and let CNN tell me what's important. That can be a pain.

Today I don't miss the TV. It's seven years since the planes hit and changed our politics and our society and I prefer to reflect on such things privately. Displays of solidarity and national mourning are important, but they don't really fit with my mindset. To me, it seems like the event is best remembered in the manner of Kennedy's assassination or natural disasters: hushed friends sitting silently until someone says "I remember I was on my way to the grocery store when I heard about it..."

I don't know what the presidential candidates are doing today and I am happy to remain ignorant. This election cycle - which was initially so brimming with potential for a reconciliation between political and cultural extremes - has, once again, turned into a vicious frothing dog fight fraught with petty accusations, distractions, and deliberate misinterpretations. It seems best to block that out for a day.

You won't know it from the page, but I've taken my requisite moment of silence. So here's my memory: I first heard about the planes from my dorm room at Yale. The New York Times sent me an e-mail alert that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I read only the headline and assumed it was some joyriding biplane - one of those instances that are semi-tragic but also undeniably odd and foolish. I went to my morning class 'Nature and Human Nature in the Middle Ages' and the professor joked about a drunk pilot. We all laughed. No one had seen the television footage. A joke still seemed appropriate.

At a certain point in the morning - shortly after that first class - there was a general consensus that college would be abandoned for the day and you saw students trying to reach friends or family through the overwhelmed cell phone network.

Yale is, or was, about half New Yorkers or natives of the New York metro area. And - affluence in the Ivy league working like it does - there were a fair number of sons and daughters of bankers and big shots in our class. I don't know what the numbers were, but it was clear that morning that family members of my classmates had died.

I spent the morning trying to reach my girlfriend at the time, a long nordic girl named Robin who had been in downtown New York earlier in the day, not near the trade center, but downtown nonetheless. I felt uncomfortably distant from the tragedy compared to classmates, so I tried to infuse my calls with a sympathetic urgency even though I was sure Robin was fine. I reached her four hours later through AOL instant messenger, since all calls to and from New York were nearly impossible.

At around 1:00 pm I got a call from my sister, who was hiking in rural Pennsylvania and had heard the news from some backwoods hermit who was glued to Fox News.

"Did a plane just hit New York?" she said, still uncertain whether to trust this cabin-dweller.

"Yeah. That happened."



After that I just sat with my roommates and a few friends staring at the TV footage for the bulk of the afternoon. When I went to dinner that night I saw a pickup truck with two men in the back holding up an American flag and demanding that we go to war. "Who with?" I shouted as they drove by. "Faggot!" they shouted back.

That incident has since struck me as an admirable personification of our country's cultural divide.

In the seven years it has been since the attacks, 9/11/01 has assumed the status of myth. It is either the beginning of the great test of our times or the exploited tragedy that sent us askew. I am not sure 9/11 was either. Or at least, I don't think it should have been either. It should have been simply a great loss.

So there are worse ways to memorialize today than ignore the speeches and parades and remember the events as they happened, devoid of meanings imposed afterward.