By Trent M Kays
Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, I ask myself: How do I feel? Meaning, I don't know how to feel on a day that changed many things in the United States and around the world. I know that we are supposed to think about those who lost their lives on that fateful day. We are supposed to mourn or celebrate their lives and reaffirm our convictions to fighting the good fight. Yet, every year, I am left with a sense of emptiness.
I feel empty, and I don't know why. It seems as if 9/11 just passes in time like any other day where Americans are supposed to forget about themselves. I often wonder if people are genuine in their altruism on the 9/11 anniversary. My experience with people makes me think not.
I remember the events of that day well. In retrospect, it almost feels like a dream, like something out of some horrid Michael Bay film. I walked to one of my courses. The room was dark, and the projector was hooked up to an antenna. No one spoke. I sat staring at the projector screen, witnessing one of the towers pouring smoke from its heights.
I saw the second plane hit. Everyone gasped, though I don't recall if I did. I just stared at the projector screen. I was dumbstruck. I was confused. I was worried. I felt a lot of different emotions. Suddenly, it was time to leave. We seemed to all get out of our chairs and shuffle out in a stupor. Still, no one spoke.
9/11 is a day I will never forget where I was and what I was doing. It's burned into my memory and often replays at the oddest moments. In my mind, I always wonder what I would have done. Would I have stood up and helped reclaim the plane? Would I have fought my way to the front of the plane? Or would I have sat passively like so many and just watched? I can never know because I wasn't there. No one can ever know. The only people who know are dead. They are claimed by history, martyrs for our now "righteous" cause to ferret out terrorism.
9/11 has most certainly been crystallized within American culture as a moment of change. It is a moment that changed everything, and in a cruel sense of irony, the terrorists may have ultimately been victorious. America is not what it once was, and while change is often productive, I doubt we can consider it so after 9/11. We as a country changed; we as a people changed. We are not what we once were.
9/11 gave birth to a war on many fronts and the loss of soldiers and civilians. We piled more death on top of death. Indeed, the 9/11 memorial has become not so much one of remembrance but more an altar to death and the wars that followed that day. I want so much for that day to never have happened. I want so much for that day to not have changed everything. We look over our shoulders still; we've bolstered our egos more, and we've killed innocent people in our hunt for our white whale.
Our wars have left us almost bankrupt. Our economy tanked. Our culture is now more one of fear than of liberty. I wonder, how would things be different had the towers not fallen? I know some who say that the wars that followed 9/11 were inevitable, and those wars just happened earlier than we wanted. I don't know about that. I want to believe it because it lends more justification to all the death. Still, I don't know, and, perhaps, we can never know. It will be one of those mysteries forever solidified to remain one.
The aftermath of 9/11 may be worse than the event itself: war, recession, death and government spying haven't been this much in vogue ever. It is our way of life now, and that is the ultimate fallout. The events of 9/11 birthed the last 11 years, and I fear that America will forever be defined by that event. The deaths on 9/11 were tragic. The deaths that followed due to war were tragic. All death is tragic.
Every day, I mourn a little for those who lost their lives on 9/11. I also mourn a little for all those who've lost their lives because of 9/11: soldiers, civilians, men, women, children, the elderly, animals and more. I mourn the loss of life, in whatever form. But, first, I mourn those who died on 9/11. We should never be flippant about the loss of life. Some tragically lost their lives on 9/11, and many have lost their lives because of 9/11.
What of the future? I find the future an even more enigmatic place than before. It's a haze -- one through which I have trouble seeing. I don't think honoring the lives of those who died on 9/11 should include more deaths in their names. That seems counter to honoring life, though no one ever accused America of not being hypocritical on occasion. I see a future of government intrusion the likes of which we've never seen, and all in the name of 9/11 and security. Indeed, the future is one that might even make Orwell cringe.
When my children ask me about 9/11, what will I tell them? What can I tell them? It was a tragic event that gave birth to more tragedy in the name of liberty. It was an event that changed America and made Americans even more xenophobic. It was an event that has made me weep for so much that I cannot change. I am powerless to change anything.
I feel lost on 9/11. Every 11th day of September since 2001, I have felt lost. I have felt wanderlust to find those lost souls who died on that day and because of that day. But, no matter how hard I look, I can never find them. I am lost just like them, only I lived and they died.