I’ve never publicly said anything about 9/11. I’ve never publicly said anything about the Murrah Building Bombing. I struggled with writing this post, but I think it’s probably time I said something.
I’m also a crier. I cry at most things that could be construed as emotional, even if I have no reason to be affected by it. I’m an emotional empathizer, I guess. At the risk of sounding pretentious, sometimes I feel crippled by how much I care, and by my inability to make change in these situations. For example, I recently found out that someone I used to know committed an act of violence, and I was unable to be around people for the next couple of days (fortunately, it was a weekend). It was so incredibly hard to deal with. But this is a person I haven’t been in contact with for years, and I doubt it could ever be said that we were actually friends. No matter – this was emotionally devastating news to me.
What really troubles me, though, is that I am simultaneously upset by and an avoider of 9/11 feelings.
Most of the time I feel like an impostor when it comes to discussing these attacks. Yeah, I live in Oklahoma City, but I was six when the Murrah Building was attacked. I wrote a news article for my high school paper when they opened the Memorial downtown, and that was the only time I’ve been to it. I went to the chairs a few years ago, and I cried and haven’t been back since. Maybe that’s part of my problem. Maybe if I made more effort to be involved, I would feel more. But then we’re back to feeling like an impostor – I feel out of place. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe it does.
I was so young when the bombing happened that it’s nearly impossible for me to remember anything but what my parents told me. I have memories of watching the news, but having had the bombing present in almost all of my life, it’s hard to tell whether these are actual memories or if they’ve been implanted from years of exposure. I have a deep-seated feeling of tragedy embedded in my soul, but at the same time it’s not a part of me the way it is for so many. It’s not that I think any less of the tragedy because I wasn’t directly involved, but just that it’s hard to be as involved in the feelings as I think that I should be. To paraphrase something I read recently, history doesn’t seem real when you don’t have that emotional attachment. You know it happened, but it’s not the same.
Now, take 9/11 and multiply that feeling hundredfold.
When the attacks happened, I was in eighth grade. I was thirteen years old. I thought I was an adult and understood it, but I wasn’t and I didn’t. That morning, I was in a flute lesson at school, and some teachers came and got my flute teacher and I, and brought us into the band room where they were all watching the news. While I realize now that I was probably one of the few students at the time to get first-hand news report of it all, I didn’t understand why it was as big of a deal, in that moment. I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was. I didn’t know what the Pentagon was. People were crying and wondering what was happening, and I didn’t understand why it was such a huge deal. I just didn’t know. I remember being entrenched in media about the attacks, and not understanding any of it. It was especially difficult because they wouldn’t let anyone talk about it in school. Only one of my teachers was willing to talk to us about it because he rightly understood how confused we all were and that we needed to have some understanding of the situation. Had the administration known, he probably would have been in trouble. But then, he was a colonel and he did pretty much whatever he wanted.
Now, I think I have a much greater understanding of the entire situation. I’ve become a lot more political and I pay attention to the news. I’m able to think more critically about everything. I wish I had more time to dedicate to learning world history. Because there is so much to learn, and I know there’s no way I’ll ever be able to know it all.
In all seriousness, I don’t think I understood the tragedy until I went on PacRim in 2007 and visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This was a day that truly changed my life. I wish everyone could go there. This is how a country should react to tragedy on this scale. I know that it took a long time for this to become what it is now, but the focus is not on retaliation or Pearl Harbor or bitterness. It honors the lives of those who lived and died in Hiroshima on that day. It’s a massive museum and peace park, and every bit of it is absolutely heartbreaking.
And I went to Pearl Harbor at the end of my trip and my heart was broken, for all of the anti-Japanese sentiment displayed and how disappointed I was. Having experienced the Peace Memorial Museum, this was utterly disappointing. For what it is, I guess it’s fine, but having seen the other side, I expected so much more.
Even writing about all of this is giving me chills. It’s hard to write about it, and I have no direct involvement in any way. I can’t imagine what it must be like for people involved, for people who were there, for people for whom this is a defining part of their lives. Even thinking about 9/11 is an overwhelming task. If you aren’t overwhelmed by the tragedy, even ten years later, you’re doing it wrong.
But all the same, it’s hard for me to get patriotic about all of this. I just don’t think it’s about patriotism and American pride. I think it’s a terrible tragedy that should be commemorated, but not celebrated. We didn’t win. The terrorists didn’t win. The survivors didn’t win. Nobody won. Nobody won 9/11, and ten years later, still, no one has won. I don’t think killing Osama Bin Laden means we won. Clearly, the world didn’t magically revert to pre-9/11 prosperity.
No one has won, but somehow it’s become about winning. I don’t want to be out in public today. I don’t want to read the news. I don’t want to hear about how it’s unpatriotic to not take a side. Of course I take the side of the country I live in, but that doesn’t mean I have to support the past ten years of waging a losing war.
I’m moving to New York City in just a short while, and maybe my feelings will change then. Maybe being able to experience everything firsthand will change it all for me. But maybe not.
I know I haven’t come to a conclusion in this post. For ten years I’ve struggled with my feelings about this, and I know I’ll be struggling with them for ten years to come, and almost certainly more. I want to remember the tragedy and I want it to be understood that I have a lot of feelings about it. I want it to be understood that there’s no reason to think of anyone as a terrorist unless he or she is, in fact, a terrorist. Regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of any Othering quality. The Murrah Building Bombing shows us that white people can and will be terrorists, which still seems to be news here in Oklahoma. How quickly we seem to have forgotten.
More than anything, I just want people everywhere to remember. Not to take retaliatory action, not to falsely accuse, not to make assumptions. To remember. Because that’s the only way we’ll be able to move past it to the future.