What the Hell to Think About 9/11

I didn’t plan this, but today I was thinking about the events of 9/11, and I wanted to share a few words.

It’s difficult sometimes to know what to think about a horrible tragedy like 9/11, especially 16 years later. For me, while I can reflect on the gravity of it, the terrible aftermath often seems distant and intangible. Compared to the victims, I feel very detached from the horrors, as if the result of the attack impacted me so indirectly it was almost as if it didn’t impact me at all. In an emotional way, if in no other, that’s true. I was very removed from the gut-wrenching wake of that bloody act of terrorism. Neither I nor any of my family or friends were hurt or killed. I can only imagine how cruel and awful it must have been for the loved ones who got the call telling them they had seen their partner, their child, their sibling, their parent, for the last time and hadn’t even known it. The lights behind so many eyes were extinguished because of one despicable act, raving fanatics acting in the name of a violent and misrepresented religion. So what the hell should we think about 9/11?

Get real. Think about this. Even for those of us who didn’t get pieces of our hearts irrevocably torn out that day, we can all learn from heartbreaking events like 9/11. You can look to the future with new wisdom. While 9/11 ripped so many people apart, in numerous ways, it also brought the hearts of many people together. The attack on the World Trade Center should have been a wake-up call to everyone who heard the story: You never know when you’re gonna go, or how, and you damn sure don’t know when it will be the last time you’ll have the chance to smile down (or up) at someone near and dear to you and tell them you love them. But it happened, and now it’s been over a decade and a half. And you’ve always moved on from things like that so easily, haven’t you? If nothing keeps it crammed under your nose, you forget, you take for granted, in lieu of something so much less important: your job, your hobbies, your shallow social life.

Even as a nation, our inability to see the big picture is pathetic. Hate divides. Division leaves everyone lost, confused, struggling, and unhappy. If there’s something for us to learn as a country from 9/11, we still haven’t learned it, and it’s this:

Tragedy strikes when people are too afraid or hateful of others being different.

First we shun each other. Then the strong ones bully the weak. Everyone take sides. Fights break out. We join gangs and cults and illegal extremist movements. Violence ensues, feeding the hate inside. We hijack a plane and slit throats. We crash into buildings, slaughtering thousands. We kill.

We do this. America does this. You can point the finger at Al-Qaeda or any fanatical group you please, but we do it on our own. We are a people of singular division. We continuously find ways to separate, to segregate, to point the finger and disdain. We jump at the slightest chance to scorn and spite. Even the dialogue regarding the belief that the events of 9/11 were conspired is dripping with strife. We don’t need another terrorist attack of massive scale to bring our nation to its knees. If we don’t unite, these states will collapse just like the World Trade Center did that fateful day.

If I’m honest, often I feel like there’s no hope. People will never rise out of the muck, never truly and unconditionally strive to be good. No one will love. There will always be war and hate and murder, and the world will eventually burn. I don’t know if angels and demons and fire from heaven will come one day to usher in world’s ending, but even if not, the apocalypse will come just the same. We are Armageddon. We are the devil, and we are the chaos that we so vehemently pretend to abhor.

If you choose to turn a blind eye, things will only get worse and worse. Man is a powerful, savage creature. There’s only one universe, and everyone wants to be at the center. So the cycle of conflict perpetuates, each fighting to keep all others out of the center. Of course you don’t have room to look out for someone else. They might try to take your spot. And so the world declines. Attacks like 9/11 happen. No ones seeks love or harmony, everyone wants power; to force their will on everyone else. We are like witches from a cartoon bent over a pot, stirring, brewing our own destruction, far too blind to even see it. Our only chance to stave off this cataclysm we’re creating is to start loving. Real love. You can no longer be your own end-all be-all. Love—only love—can change the world. In a sea of shadow, every candle that ignites chases away a little more black. You have to resolve to burn whether others burn with you or not. You have to surround yourself with other candles. A little light can hold off a lot of dark.

From now on when you’re remembering 9/11, let your heart go out to the victims, sure. Lower the flag and erect at memorial if you will. Do what you need to do to pay your respects to the day. Then take a moment and reflect on the hate, the terrorism, the 9/11 inside of you. Do something about it.


Happy birthday, Grampa.

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