I have tried, every year since the event, to think long and hard about what I really felt on 9/11. Our nation soon crafted a narrative of resilience, and even Hillary Clinton recently cited the purported unity in the nation the attacks brought on that day. The deluge of official remembrance and media spin has made us lose sight of the visceral human horror of that day. Like others, I was confused and disoriented, overcome by a sickening wave of grief and fear. Nobody was sure of what had happened, or what it would mean. I remember crying quiet tears in the teaching assistants' office, thinking that the attack would unleash even bloodier wars in response.
I never could have known that the wars would still be going on fifteen years later. Those wars have helped turn 9/11 into a symbol, and have obscured its tragedy. Real people died, real flesh and blood people, and they died by the thousands. For the most part, they weren't "heroes," just ordinary people going about their day. In fact, I just found out today that a colleague lost someone he knew in the attack. My wife has had students at her school who lost family members in the attack. The wounds are still there, even if lower Manhattan has shaken almost all of the scars. I wonder how soon before the last traces of anything real in our memory are gone, replaced completely and totally by bullshit.
So this 9/11, don't let the day be claimed by the nationalists and the cranks. Remember by remembering the people who lost their lives, and don't invest them with phony martyrdom. Don't act as if taking out Bin Laden vindicates anything or lessens the mourning of those who lost loved ones. Above all, remember what you really, really felt that day, before the mechanisms of nationalism turned it into justification for wars without end. Maybe, when the current, unending war 9/11 was exploited to foment finally ends, we can have a true, honest public memory of that day.