Exactly two years ago, human insanity and cruelty appeared at our doors, taking along with it thousands of innocent lives, taking with it some of our innocence. Looking back now, with the benefit of some hindsight (though two years in the grand scheme of things is not a very long time), I realize that it was an event that changed many of us.
For me, the biggest change was a realignment of priorities. Prior to this day, I was intensely career-driven, focusing on getting the job done, no matter what company I worked for and no matter what it took. Now, that impulse is tempered by the need for a balance between personal and work life. I still do care a tremendous amount about work but it is no longer the only thing that drives me.
Along with this came some other significant changes in my world. Getting married, earlier this year, was one of those, a decision that will change the rest of my life as I agreed to invest the rest of my days in caring for another person: Amy. As a fiercely independent person, this was an important realization. You can go on running forever but for what purpose? Running on your own has no purpose than the running itself. Running with a partner, caring and loving someone else (and being cared for and loved in return) is a feeling that I can hardly describe in words. And it feels good!
Recognizing that I need to spend more time with friends was another change. Prior to September 11, 2001, it was almost a given that I would end my emails or phone calls with something along the lines of “let’s do lunch/drinks/dinner soon”. Now, a new sense of urgency has set in. I am no longer content to just say soon but often want to set a date. That change in my nature is largely due to the fact that I had outstanding open-ended invitations with a few friends who perished when the towers fell.
Like most New Yorkers, my world is also a little darker. When the blackout happened a few weeks ago, everyone’s thought immediately turned to the possibility of another attack. When word passed by that it wasn’t, a great sense of relief set in. We live with terrorism as a constant. Not front of mind but definitely there, idling on the edge of our minds. This is the post 9/11 world, this is the world we live in.
Many of us are uneasy about this. I, for one, do not tend to share much on this site about my day to day feelings. For starters, I don’t believe it appropriate of me to bear my thoughts as openly in public. I tend to be a very introverted (and, hard to believe, shy) individual. When sitting down with some friends who were THERE, who escaped from the towers, we do not talk about it much. We might toast some lost friends, we know the feelings are there but it is still the elephant in the room, always around, but never spoken of. It’s uneasy but it is how we adapt.
Two years have passed and everywhere, the events of that day are used to justify just about anything. Curtail freedoms expressively given by the bill of rights; justify wars, like the conflict in Iraq; justify a deficit created out of new tax cuts. All those have been done in the name of the victims, often put in hushed words: “Well, you know, because of 9/11…” It seems that more and more, politicians are happy to stand on the pile of corpses from that day and use it as a bully pulpit to clamp down on free speech and justify unpopular positions. No tie was ever found between Iraq and what happened on that day but 70% of Americans think that they exist. Why is that? Could it be the constant barrage of pseudo-reporting on the likes of CNN and Fox News, showing the president create that linkage, albeit never directly so that no one could call him on it?
As many people know, I am a French citizen living in the United States. The past few months have been interesting in the sense that I am now more aware of the kind of discrimination that can occur when nations are mobilized against a new evil. Technically, what I’ve written in the paragraph above could probably be considered seditious enough to get me investigated. Then who knows… Maybe a one way ticket to an army prison barrack, where I could be held for an indefinite amount of time, without the right to a lawyer or any of the due process expressed in the American constitution. It is something that pains me, to see a country as great as the United States be torn apart in such a fashion.
And yet, I remain optimistic. I believe, now more than ever, that this is just a phase, similar to what must have happened during the McCarthy era in this country. I believe that the American founding fathers were geniuses, not for coming up with the constitution and the bill of rights, but for realizing that they did not hold all the answers and for creating a structure that allowed for some leeway back and forth. I believe that being an American is about being allowed to express one’s views, no matter how unpopular they may be. No other country actually spells out the right to free speech in its establishing documents.
I also believe in good for goodness sake, as we recently witnessed with the blackout. When the blackout happened, my neighbors were checking on each others and on us. Everyone was willing to share what they had, whether it was good stories, candles, flashlights, insights, or news. We were brought together and I believe that the horror of 9/11 is what did it for us. The realization that somewhere out there someone wants to kill us for no other reason that we are us brings us nearer to each others, something akin to the kind of foxhole relationships developed in times of wars. As a result of 9/11, I’ve gained membership in a new club: I am now a New Yorker. I may not be an American citizen but being a New Yorker is something that defies boundaries. I recently saw an advertisement saying that over 250 languages are spoken in this great city of ours. We are really the capital of the world and yet, we do not boast about it, we go on day after day, caring for each other. I’ve noticed a softer edge to the city since these events. It seems people are more compassionate. It seems people are more willing to care for their fellow men.
So two years have gone by. It’s not a lot of time but it’s been a big time of change. I know that 9/11 changed me forever. I’m only scratching the surface as to how. At this time, six of my friends have been confirmed dead. A few more acquaintances have just disappeared without a trace. Year one and two were big grieving years. Today, we still mourn our dead but today is also a day of rebirth. Year one made it impossible to move on, the wound was two fresh. Year two set up a better world to prepare for what’s next. I will never forget the events of that day but I know that now may be a good time to let go of some of the grief and try to resume a normal life. Normal, that is, based on the new definition of normal in our world.
Today I cry for those who have passed on and yet, I have to acknowledge their sacrifice and see that they made me a better person. It is really a shame that I could not see this without something as horrible as what happened and I now wish it hadn’t been that way. But you can never take back the past, you can only work on improving the future. Listening to the children at ground zero today, I hope for a better world, one that we can leave to them improved, renewed, and one that we can hopefully make a little more tolerant.