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Monday, September 5, 2011

September 11

Some things cannot be avoided. September 11, 2001 is one of those things for me. These are my personal thoughts and there are things I do try to avoid:

1. The term "anniversary." An anniversary is something we celebrate. It is not a term I want to associate with horrible crimes.

2. The term "9/11." This term has become commonly used, even in countries where the date is written the other way around (11/9). I am sure it is not meant this way, but to me, "9/11" sounds like slang, cheap and demeaning. It reminds me of 7-Eleven, the convenience store. Shorthand is also not something I wish to associate with terrible crimes.

3. Basically, any media coverage. Language can sometimes have the effect of corroding a sense of reality. How many times, in hearing again and again about those terrible crimes, did someone say "It was like a disaster movie"? But it wasn't a movie, and the terrorists were not cartoon characters, like the Legion of Doom on Superfriends. Mass murder is not a religion, a country or any grand concept. What cause or creed could be greater than the lives they took?

I must be one of the only people in the world who has never watched live-action images of planes crashing into the World Trade Centre. I didn't have a television on September 11, 2001, and I've never wished to recreate the events of that day as a movie in my mind. It's not that I doubt historical coverage of those events is a good thing. If people are in ignorance of what happened, then they should be shown.

But I do remember September 11. I was in Toronto, working. I remember who was there and what they said about it. I remember one co-worker who thought her brother had been on one of the planes. He wasn't, but the hours of waiting and not knowing must have been agony for her. I remember another co-worker, a Japanese-Canadian, who wondered if people of the wrong ethnicity would be put in internment camps, like her grandparents had been during World War II. Everyone had a fear.

I also remember what it was like to be in a neighboring country. I remember compassion: people rolling up their sleeves to donate blood. A radio interview with someone I knew in high school, who drove his ambulance all the way to New York from Tennessee. Americans volunteering to serve in the armed forces, not to go fight people far away, but to defend their country from attack. Our one-bedroom apartment filled with British people who were my family. I remember Canadians hosting stranded air passengers for days. People in countries thought hostile to Americans, mourning the victims. The French news headline: WE ARE ALL AMERICANS.

I've read that the U.S.A. has become a harder, less trusting place since 2001, that a generation of Americans has come of age not knowing the open, friendly country I grew up in. I haven't lived there since 2000, so I can't say whether this is true. But we triumph over terrorism to the extent to which September 11 did not change the world.

What I mean is, evil was not invented that day. Terrorists had been killing innocent people for years--in other countries. But if September 11 was not the beginning of evil, nor was it the end of good. Yes, there was murder on that day but there was also rescue. Yes, there have been hate crimes, but there have also been many instances of reaching out across faiths. Many people helped their neighbors on that day, or just started talking to them.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus (revered as a prophet in Islam) tells a story in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" It is the story of a Samaritan who helped a man he didn't know, after the man was the victim of a violent attack. Samaritans were a nationality and a religion that Jesus knew his audience despised. His message was clear: It is showing mercy that makes us neighbors to each other.

September 11 is to my generation what the assassination of President Kennedy was to the generation of Americans before mine. For some families (like the Kennedys) it was the most important event of their own lives. For the rest of us, we all remember where we were.

If you remember, I hope your memories are like mine. Not only of horror and grief but also of good people; of good neighbors; of different nationalities coming together. Of lives lost on one day, but also of how we can live every day.