You’ll read a lot of memories of 9/11 today, unless you’re trying to avoid them by shutting off the Internet. If you don’t want to hear mine, that’s cool, but at least skip to the bottom and watch the video, because that’s the part I really want you to look at. It’s not horrible pictures, I promise. It’s just something you won’t read about in a lot of the articles or blog posts today.
I was in a skyscraper in downtown L.A. that morning (yes, at 6 am Pacific time) and we were all told to go home, and it was terrifying because it was so different from anything we’d ever experienced before. We build up our comfortable routines and believe that they shield us from the world. We know that we probably won’t be attacked while waiting in line at Starbucks; we know that (now) we probably won’t come under heavy weapons fire on the freeways; we know that these things happen, but they are rare and they are far away and they do not happen to us. Earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes happen, but earthquakes are over fast and we understand them; tsunamis and hurricanes come with some warning.
The attack of 9/11 came without warning (to most of us), and we had no idea when it would end. Was there a parallel attack planned for L.A.? We watched the smoke rise from our cities and we thought it was over. Probably. And over the next few days we noticed the eerie silence in the skies, the absence of planes as loud as gunfire, and we wondered.
Much has been made of how united we were in those times, but, and of course you know what angle I am going to write about here, that unity did not really bridge the gaps in our society. Rich people did not decide to hand over more money to feed the poor; racial minorities did not suddenly gain status on the basis that “we are all Americans”; gay people were no more acceptable than they had been on September 10th(*).
*We are more acceptable now, but not as a result of our national crisis.
This despite the fact that there was a very clear hero of 9/11, and he was gay. And Melissa Etheridge wrote a song about him. If you do nothing else today, take five minutes and listen to it, would you?
And then hug someone you care about. You can’t spend every day worrying about terrorist attacks (unless you’re Jack Bauer) or earthquakes or financial crises or epidemics. You just can’t. But you can show the people you love how you feel, and the ties you build with those gestures will withstand any disaster.