Remembering September 11th, 2001


Today is the five-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I hope everyone will take a few minutes today to reflect on what happened, and send your thoughts/prayers to the people who have been most deeply affected.

Like many New Yorkers, I dread the September 11th anniversary every year it rolls around. I’m glad that the city and the people here are given this room to grieve; I’m glad we remember it, that we don’t forget the names and the faces of the people who died and were injured, and that we talk about what it’s meant for our country.

But I hate it. I hate the flag-waving, the fanfare, the members of the yellow ribbon brigade talking about where they were, how they had ridden the subway under the towers only a year before, how they were in New York that one time and they saw the towers.

When I wrote about September 11th two years ago on my old blog, I had a stay-at-home Catholic homeschooling mother of five who lived in Akron, Ohio tell me that all Americans experienced September 11th equally, that we all have our stories and we all grieved and that it’s a tragedy that we all share.


I hope that all Americans do feel some ownership over September 11th. I hope we all think about it today. I hope that we all grieve. But we did not all experience the tragedy equally. September 11th is not my tragedy in the same way that it is the tragedy of the woman whose partner died in the towers; it is not my tragedy in the same way that it is the tragedy of the man who barely escaped; it is not my tragedy in the same way that it is the tragedy of the daughter who sat terrified all day because she didn’t know if her father had made it out or not. For the woman in Ohio, it is not her tragedy in the same way that it is a tragedy for New Yorkers.

An American flag decal on your minivan does not mean that you know. A yellow ribbon and a “go get ’em” attitude does not make your experience as real or as valid as someone’s who watched it in real time, who grieved for a person who was real to them. Stickers and flags do not make up for the fact that five years later, New Yorkers — and Americans in general — still haven’t seen justice, and still haven’t gotten what we need. Exhaltations about how much you love America do not redeem you if in the next breath you are willing to sell New York down the river, or promote the relinquishment of the very freedoms and liberties that define us, or are happy to remain ignornant and complacent about what’s happened in the years since this day in 2001.

September 11th certainly affected all of us. Every New Yorker has their story, and in the days following it, as the bars filled up and the streets remained eerily silent, those stories were murmered and shared in back corners and semi-anonymous spaces. But more often, they didn’t have to be. I don’t remember a lot of what happened on that day, but I do remember walking around Manhattan in the days afterward and the thick sense of solidarity, the way that people on the street would make eye contact and their faces would soften in mutual understanding. No one smiled, no one laughed, but no one yelled or honked their horns, either.

And so I hate the stories. I hate the competitions of who was closer, who was more connected, whose cousin’s fiancee’s sister was right there. I almost never hear these stories from actual New Yorkers, and from the people who actually were right there — and when I do hear them, it’s far more of a blood-letting or a confession than a tittilation.

I hate the movies, the re-broadcastings, the edited footage of the towers falling.

I hate the arrogance of the people who think that watching it on TV was the same as watching it out your window or from your streetcorner, was anything akin to seeing, hearing and smelling those things that the cameras didn’t capture, or the producers edited out — the smell of burning metal and flesh, the thick haze, that moment when you remembered oh my god there are people in there, the papers from someone’s file cabinet littering the city for weeks afterwards, the people lining up to give blood only to find out it wasn’t really needed because you either made it out fairly unharmed or you were dead, every person on the street looking up and squinting against the sun (everyone seems to recall what an unusually nice September Tuesday it was), the relief in your mother’s voice when she finally got through to you, those little figures falling from the buildings before they collapsed that we all thought were birds but later realized were people jumping.

I hate the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

I hate the tourists, the people who come and take smiling pictures outside of the World Trade Center site, the people who call it “Ground Zero” and show up with their fanny packs and their comfortable walking shoes and see it in between their checklist stops at Wall Street and the Statue of Liberty. I generally avoid that area of downtown, but occassional trips to Century 21 bring me across the street and at no other time do I feel such rage toward otherwise fairly harmless individuals. I want to shake them and scream, this is a graveyard! It is not a tourist attraction, and it is not a souvenir shop, and every person buying or selling “9/11: We Will Never Forget” laminated placques and t-shirts and snowglobes and other kitsch makes me angry beyond belief. Every person who shows up in their khaki shorts and their I Heart NY t-shirt leaves my fists clenched. That site is not just a big hole in the ground. There are pieces of human beings in there. There is blood in that ground. There are teeth, bone fragments, ashes, burned and buried flesh. There are body parts in there.

I hate the statements about how “September 11th changed everything” when they come from people who have no idea about the little ways in which our lives have shifted. Low-flying planes are particularly frightening. Sometimes there are loud noises or dull roars that feel too familiar, and that make my blood run cold. I can’t board an airplane without picturing it crashing. The other day I was walking down the street and saw two people talking on their cellphones and looking upwards — and I froze, scared to look up and see what they were staring at. When I’m riding the subway I’ll occassionally think, “this would be such an easy target.”

I hate how September 11th has been twisted to suit particular political aims, how thousands of tourists can come to this city every day and walk out with their heads still deep in the “Saddam-did-it” sand, how so many people can somehow justify a war in Iraq on the backs of dead New Yorkers. I think Hell has a special place for the people who carried out the attacks, and for the network of individuals who supported, enabled and encouraged them. It infuriates me that five years later we still haven’t caught the main person behind them, but we’re waist-deep and billions of dollars into a conflict that had absolutely nothing to do with the events that transpired five years ago today. It infuriates me that our government has used September 11th and manipulated our grief and our anger to support measures which are unrelated to actually stopping international terrorism and which have probably left us all more vulnerable. It infuriates me that New York remains under-protected and is consistently short-changed when it comes to anti-terrorism funding, and yet our tragedy is used to justify everything from torture to racism to imperialism to civil liberties abuses.

I hate the anniversary of September 11th because every year I inevitably feel incredibly angry, and deeply saddened.

But, at the risk of engaging in a horrible cliche, I will say that my memories of September 11th and the days following help me to restore my faith in the people of this city. The flag-waving on September 12th didn’t feel as empty as it does today; on September 12th there was a unique feeling of unity and of nationalism that was about solidarity and taking care of each other, not about vengeance or exclusion or culture wars or invasions. While the media was preemptively trying to write 9/11 into history by 9/12 — overly-conscious of the fact that this is a historical moment and you will always remember where you were when the first plane hit — New Yorkers were showing each other as much quiet kindness as we could. Blood donation lines twisted around the street for blocks. Cabbies didn’t honk their horns. Firefighters, police officers, and others were elbow-deep picking through rubble day and night, trying to bring some solace to families who had lost people, at the expense of their own health.

I try to avoid conversations about September 11th, because even five years later I don’t think I’ve really let myself connect with what happened. I don’t tell My September 11th Story because it’s irrelevant. I’ve blocked a lot of it out.

But there was goodness. I remember that.

Picture via FireDogLake, which also has a must-read post.

53 comments for “Remembering September 11th, 2001

  1. zuzu
    September 11, 2006 at 10:34 am


    This morning I looked up to see a low-flying jet in the clear blue September sky, and my stomach fell when I saw that it was an American Airlines plane.

    What people in the rest of the country don’t get, as Steve Gilliard has been pointing out, is that this wasn’t just one day here as it was for the rest of the country. The lockdown lasted weeks; months around the site. The plume lasted months. The disaster tourists came early and never left. Several of the anthrax attacks were here. The funerals went on for a year and there were so many of them that the Fire Department’s ceremonial bagpipe unit had to scramble to find enough people to create new units so that each firefighter funeral could have pipers. And speaking of bagpipes, I don’t know how many times that year I heard the pipes coming from the church across the expressway from my apartment — and how grateful I am that the cops don’t use pipers (we’ve had two cop funerals there recently). The papers had special sections giving a picture and bio of each of the dead. For a year.

    About the civility — while it was genuine, after a while it came to feel unnatural and stressful in itself. It was a relief in late September/early October to see people snapping at each other again. My mother was with me when I dropped my civility and started yelling at a cab driver who refused to follow my directions. She didn’t get why I was so relieved to do that — it felt normal.

  2. September 11, 2006 at 10:40 am

    Agreed, Zuzu. The civility had its place, but the transition out of it was certainly a relif in itself.

  3. September 11, 2006 at 10:50 am

    I haven’t been in New York since it happened. I’ve flown through JFK a number of times in the past five years, but an actual trip to New York has not materialized. My family’s finances went to shit, and I was left to fend for myself in college (and I had been so bloody pampered before, so it was a real shock), and so I hardly ever traveled anywhere, unless the parents were willing to help me out or unless someone could host me. Most of my friends in New York I lost touch with, although more and more people I know are moving up there these days.

    So I would like to be a tourist again on one of these days, maybe for Thanksgiving, or something, and go up North, and visit the site where it happened, and finally, FINALLY pay my respects.

    And I hope you don’t hate me for that, z.

  4. September 11, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Oh, and by z (as in zuzu), I mean J (as in Jill).

    I really, really should have had my coffee today.

  5. September 11, 2006 at 10:59 am

    Natalia, I certainly don’t resent the people who come to pay their respects. I resent the incredible amount of disrespect that I see from tourists who come to gawk at the site. If people come and they’re dressed appropriately, speak quietly, pay their respects, reflect on what happened, and generally behave properly, I don’t have a problem. What I hate is how it’s been turned into a tourist trap.

  6. September 11, 2006 at 11:02 am

    Looking around, I see more NYC bloggers taking greater strides to reclaim the city from the story. I think this is a necessary outshoot of the commodification of 9/11 for political and economic ends. We can only stomach so much tourism and war based on the amputation of the New York skyline, the self-defenestration by dozens of New Yorkers who had no other chance for safety.

    We all watched the same tragedy, but we all knew it in different ways. It cannot be controversial to say the truth: some people have a greater connection to the destruction of the Twin Towers than others, and most of those people live in the tri-state area.

    Maybe if New Yorkers had been given license to retain a greater degree of ownership over the memory of this attack there wouldn’t have been such a partisan exploitation of the events in its aftermath.

  7. Molly
    September 11, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Beautiful post Jill…

  8. Marian
    September 11, 2006 at 11:27 am

    I hadn’t been to NY before when the tragedy happened. I was in State College, PA (a small, rural college town), and I’ll admit that I only experienced it on TV. I hadn’t been to NY, have a sister in DC but know she works nowhere near the Pentagon, didn’t know anyone there, etc. Of course I was scared, and shaken, and sad for those who lost people, but it is most definitely NOT the same as if you lived here, or knew people who died, etc.

    My in-laws on the other hand DID lose someone, who was almost like a brother to them. It’s sad to hear the story, but I can’t cry as hard as they can because I didn’t know them at the time; I know him only in retrospect (because they told me all about him). It’s not my place, as with any bereavement, to say “I know exactly what you must be feeling,” because I don’t. I did light a candle for him on their behalf in 2003 though, only because I lived in NYC and they didn’t.

    Admittedly I have had those thoughts of “OMG this could have been me,” but only because I was admitted to NYU in 2002, and know that if I had chosen to go to NYU a year earlier rather than joining Americorps, I *would* have been in downtown Manhattan. Not the WTC area though, but I could have gotten sick from the air.

    Most of my “grief” comes from thinking how bad it feels when I don’t hear from my husband, mom, etc. for a nervewracking amount of time or at an expected time. I’m a worrywart and know how when you’re worried sick about someone, it’s hard to eat, sleep or do anything til you know they’re OK. Now take that feeling and add to it the realization that your mom or husband or other loved one will NEVER call you again, will NEVER come home again, etc. I think of the loved ones waiting up through the night, hoping just maybe that they’d hear good news, and not getting it, then having to explain to their kids–and I *can’t* identify.

  9. Marian
    September 11, 2006 at 11:29 am

    About the civility — while it was genuine, after a while it came to feel unnatural and stressful in itself. It was a relief in late September/early October to see people snapping at each other again. My mother was with me when I dropped my civility and started yelling at a cab driver who refused to follow my directions. She didn’t get why I was so relieved to do that — it felt normal.

    Actually, my first time ever in NY was March 2002, and I found people nice compared to what the stereotype has always been. At the time I thought it was due to 9/11. Then again, I’m just a midwestern girl who expected to hear people yelling, snapping, mugging, and pushing around the clock because that’s what they tell us out there. But that’s just a stereotype anyway so my guess is I came long after the “return to normal.” Not that much has changed since March of 2002.

  10. Gabriel Malor
    September 11, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Jill, I won’t write much on this subject because it is still difficult for me. I like your essay because it highlights all the complex consequences that the attacks brought. For me, the worst things about commemorating September 11th are the conspiracy theories and the blaming. So it was nice to see you mention those things.

    But I want you and other New Yorkers to consider that the attacks may have had a special impact on those of us who weren’t in New York on that day. Just as you write that “[f]or the woman in Ohio, it is not her tragedy in the same way that it is a tragedy for New Yorkers,” it is true that the attacks were not your tragedy in the same way it was for the rest of us.

    We watched in horror as that symbol of shining, urban America was covered in ash. New York City, the Big Apple, the place where all proto-hip little girls want to visit, was a talisman for Americans everywhere. And we were helpless to do anything to help. We watched the second plane colide. We heard the talking heads of the big networks–those emblematic sophisticates of upscale urban culture–stop, at a loss for words when the south tower fell. And we could do nothing but call our neighbors and our family and ask “Did you see it? Turn on the TV.”


    And, of course, we watched as the reports came in about the Pentagon. Scattered at first, and always prefaced with “we have unconfirmed reports.” But then we saw video from cameras in D.C. showing smoke in the skyline. And at that point hopelessness becamse something more. It became fear. One is an accident. Two is an attack. Three means we have no fucking clue what is going on.


    It would be much later when we heard about the fourth plane. And cried over that, too. Because we were crying. Because it was devastating for us, too. Because we have been on an airplane and never had to face that choice. Because we have been to the Big City and walked away from it unharmed. We idolized it, and dreamed about a different life and on Tuesday, Septermber 11th, those dreams ended. Because it’s impossible to see the New York City skyline without thinking of the towers. Whether you lived there, or visited there, or not.

    Indeed you should lay claim to a special tragedy that day. But try to consider that non-New Yorkers had a special trageday as well. Damn. I guess I had more to say than I thought.

  11. September 11, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Oh, I agree completely, Jill. I did get a terse lecture from a New Yorker friend once about how going to visit the site would be fetishizing it, or something, but there is a difference between wanting to pay your respects and going over there to smack your gum and take some funny, irrelevant pictures.

    It’s kind of like being in a graveyard, you’re right (or at least they ought to be). I’ve always liked graveyards. They’re peaceful and sad, and they make you appreciate the brevity of life. I’ve always liked the Ukrainian tradition of having an Easter celebration exclusively for the dead, when you come to the graves of your loved ones, and eat specially prepared funeral food, and toast their memory while children collect Easter eggs from other families gathered at the graves (it’s kind of like trick-or-treating, only a whole lot more somber and thoughtful). You need to really connect to the place to appreciate it, and when I see people stomping through graveyards, gabbing loudly on their mobile phones and making a mess, I get pretty irritated.

    As for the flag-waving, it’s just nauseating. Some people turn into cheerleaders on 9/11, brainless and vulgar.

  12. September 11, 2006 at 11:48 am

    I couldn’t agree more, Jill. And I’m a former New Yorker/Jerseyite. If you weren’t there, or didn’t know anybody in the Towers or the Pentagon who died that day, it’s not the same. It shouldn’t be treated the same. Not everybody can, or should, share/co-opt the pain of people who lost someone dear to them on that day.

    Terrific post. Everybody should read this.

  13. Kelly
    September 11, 2006 at 1:13 pm


    Everyone does has their own perspective, and their own sense of loss from that day. I would never tell anyone, no matter where they lived, that they don’t get to grieve or that their sadness isn’t as important because they were living in Michigan on 9/11 as opposed to Manhattan. One of the strong memories I have about that day is the outpouring of ‘what can we do to help you?’ from my friends living outside of New York, who offered everything from homes to stay in to calling family members on my behalf to let them know I was safe(my phone wasn’t working, but my internet was). Their sense of grief and helplessness was just as valid as mine, though they and I both realized that it was from a different perspective.

    What angered me then, and does to this day, is when people who do not live in New York, who never lived in New York, who didn’t know anyone who was in harm’s way that day, speak with a sense of entitlement about 9/11, and will inevitably make it political. I was once in a discussion with a woman who supported any and all curtailing of our civil liberties because ‘people forget 9/11,’ and she (living in a rural community far from any target area) remembers what it was like then and doesn’t want to be attacked again. I wanted to ask her how many days after the attacks did she have to walk around with a rag over her mouth so that she wouldn’t breathe in the smoky stench of burnt rubber and metal. Most New Yorkers were furious when the RNC came to town in 2004 to co-opt 9/11, and gave speech after speech about how we could Never Forget and we should remember that the Republicans will keep us safe and they care more about our safety than the Democrats. Meanwhile, most of the cheering delegates to the convention had never been to New York and spent most of that week being shuttled in private buses from their hotel to the arena, making sure to see as little of New York as possible.

    I won’t watch the coverage of the anniversary today because every speech and memorial is now tinged with politics and disagreement. I’d rather remember September 12th, when no one in the city was talking about politics or who was to blame. I’ll remember things like being in Union Square and hearing a man shout out from the corner that he needed help to carry several bins of clothing and supplies to a van to take to fire stations. Without question, 30 people got up from whatever they were doing and helped the stranger out, because they, like everyone else in the country, were desperate to do whatever they could to help out.

  14. Murphy
    September 11, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    This is a beautiful post. I remember feeling so crazy those days… each anniversary hits me even harder. Thanks for expressing all those frustrating contradictory feelings that so many people refuse to acknowledge. The last thing that 9/11 brought me was clarity. I understand the need to reach for any sort of clarity — be it a belief in conspiracy theories, a belief in the basic goodness of people, or the most common belief that ‘everything has changed’ — but I am just distrustful. It was all of those things; it is none of those things; it’s incomprehensible and inexplicable. And flags and ‘solidarity’ and war will never explain it or do it justice. Especially not the justice part.

  15. Lizzie
    September 11, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you Jill for putting into words something that annoys the hell out of me. The need for EVERYONE in America to have and tell their special 9/11 story.

    I was living in Wisconsin at the time, finishing my undergrad, I went to class, we talked for about 10 minutes about how confusing and depressing it was, and then I went home and watched tv and called friends and family, all of whom were in Midwestern States. It was upsetting, but all in all, a pretty boring day. It didn’t happen to me, it was sad and tragic, but it didn’t hit me in anything remotely resembling the way it hit the people living in New York. The biggest impact in my life was that my lab class that evening was cancelled.

    So why do Non-NY-connected people always want to hear the boring, dull, irrelevent stories from other non-NY-connected people? What sort of need does that fill? Why do we want to make ourselves seem so bloody important? And why do we put these stories on the same level as those who actually lived through blocked phone lines, death, smoke, human ash in the air, and a smell that I can’t imagine?

  16. September 11, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    I remember feeling very strange about it, that day and the days afterwards. I paced all afternoon while my mom had the TV on mute and tried to get through to our family. We refer to New York as “the city,” as “going home” – my mother grew up in the Bronx, my father grew up on Long Island, and almost all of our close family and friends live in New York. Dad’s best friend from high school works in the financial district. Mom’s aunts lived downtown, just above where the streets lose their numbers. We had been planning to visit them that weekend, but the eleventh fell on a Tuesday, and we didn’t think we could get into the city. One of my best friends lives in Tribeca.

    And I remember even afterwards, as the mythologizing started – “I heard… I was here when…” – I felt angry. These friends of mine were completely unconnected to New York. They didn’t have family and friends to worry about. I understood that it changed everything, but at the same time it was a different species of fear, and I wanted that to be acknowledged somehow.

    Don’t get me started on the kid who took advantage of the anthrax scares to leave an envelope of baking powder in a bathroom and get school closed for three days…

  17. ilyka
    September 11, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    The need for EVERYONE in America to have and tell their special 9/11 story.

    Well, obviously not everyone, since you describe it yourself as a “pretty boring day.” Whether you think other people had good reasons or not for having or telling their stories–wait, I missed the part where it was up to any specific individual to decide that.

    I don’t think all the people telling those stories are doing so to make themselves seem important. If any act is puffed up with vanity and self-importance, it’s needing to decide which events should have what significance for which people.

    I know a woman who lost a close family friend that day. One year she solicited everyone’s dumb September 11 stories, whether they had lived in New York (or Pennsylvania, or D.C.) or not. I’m sure she just did that out of an inflated sense of self-importance, though. I mean it couldn’t be from wanting to connect with humanity in the face of tragedy or anything, right?

  18. September 11, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    I cannot think of any sentiments more appropriate or more true.

  19. September 11, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Some of your best stuff. Thanks.

  20. Lizzie
    September 11, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    I’m sure she just did that out of an inflated sense of self-importance, though. I mean it couldn’t be from wanting to connect with humanity in the face of tragedy or anything, right?

    ilyka, you know what is a really cool skill? READING.

    I’m talking about people who didn’t loose anything on 9/11 who like to talk about their own story of thinking “gosh that is so terrible” from afar as though it is remotely comparable to what actual people who knew actual people who actually were in harms way went through. I’m talking about the people whose 9/11 story is a version of “I watched TV all day” who then act like it was just as hard on them in Green Bay or Portland or Akron as it was for people in New York or people who lost someone in New York, the Pentagon, or in the crash of United 93. I’m talking about the people who never buried anyone connected to 9/11, never smelled the smell of burning building and airplane parts, and never had to worry about their loved ones, then they turn around and say “9/11 was such a trajedy for all of us”. How many newspapers in the country today are running stories of actual 9/11 survivors and how many are running versions of “ask local people what they were doing and print their droll but melodramatic replies”? If all a person in Nebraska lost was their sense of American invincibility, then I don’t think that remotely compares to what Jill describes in the above post, and I don’t think those people have any right to try to claim 9/11 as their trajedy.

    You’re talking about someone who was personally impacted by the tragedy. See how you are talking about somone who is automatically in a completely different and disctinct group from the people I was talking about? Sheesh. READING. It is good to READ before you blow up and post something that is accusatory but completely unrelated because you didn’t bother to really READ the comment in question.

  21. Sally
    September 11, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    So why do Non-NY-connected people always want to hear the boring, dull, irrelevent stories from other non-NY-connected people?

    I don’t think it’s any different from everyone having their Cuban Missile Crisis or JFK assasination story, except in one big way. I don’t know any Kennedies. Americans were all on the same page on the JFK assassination: pretty much everyone in America was equally affected. But I do know people who lost friends on 9/11, and I do know people who were in New York, so there’s an added level of insensitivity to the 9/11 storytelling. I don’t think the problem is the desire to tell stories. It’s not knowing when to shut the hell up.

    I wasn’t anywhere near New York or D.C., and it definitely did affect me in limited ways. I spent a pretty scary day trying to get in touch with my family members, and then it created a strange and distressing division in my immediate family between people who were there and people who weren’t. (This mostly played out between my brother and me. He felt like I wasn’t entitled to my political opinions, because I live in a place that’s unlikely to get blown up. I felt like he wasn’t entitled to tell me that I wasn’t entitled to my political opinions, even though I’m not as vulnerable to terrorism as he is. It’s got better recently, I think both because he’s doing better emotionally and because our political opinions have become a lot less divergent. Mutual anger about the Iraq war is a deeply healing thing.) It was definitely an important event in my life, but it a much different and less intense way than it was for New Yorkers.

    I don’t think I fully realized the difference until I spent the summer of 2003 in New York. My reaction the blackout was totally, totally different from New Yorkers’. You could really tell who had moved to New York in the past 2 years: we were the non-freaked-out ones. I realized how totally I took for granted my ability to assume that a garden-variety urban emergency is just a garden-variety urban emergency.

  22. September 11, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    I remember the night of 9/11 five years ago. We went to the local karaoke bar and while there was sort of grim mood we figured we’d sing some songs anyway. And some dudes at the bar complained so we shut it all down and they sat there drinking beer and watching the footage and that’s when it hit me. They thought what they did that day mattered. They honestly thought someone gave a shit. And that, more than anything, struck me as demeaning.

    But to be more generous, I think this is what was going on: People around the world watched that footage of the towers going down again and again and again. Billions upon billions of times. The nearly 3,000 people that died that day have the most witnessed death in history and yet, for all that, they still died alone in that tower, still mostly out of view. They died alone, as we all must do.

    And people who cling to the idea that they share in this tragedy because they watched it on TV? I think they’re trying to convince themselves that somehow they stopped them from dying alone. It’s a big, collective lie.

  23. September 11, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    I think they’re trying to convince themselves that somehow they stopped them from dying alone. It’s a big, collective lie.

    I don’t disagree, but I do find it indicative of the helplessness that we felt. I remember my friends rushing around trying to donate blood and plasma and being turned away. All we could do was watch.

  24. Sally
    September 11, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    I don’t disagree, but I do find it indicative of the helplessness that we felt

    Both of those things, but I think it was also that none of the usual distancing factors were there, so people couldn’t help but identify with the people who died. Usually, when most Americans see scenes of mass death and total devestation on television, they’re happening to people who don’t feel like “us.” They’re separated by geography and nationality and often by race and class. Most Americans are used to seeing those people as objects: they’re people one feels bad for, but they’re not people whose life one imagines one’s self living. So when you see someone dying in a distant disaster, you don’t imagine what that person’s last minutes would have been like. You don’t imagine what it would be like to know your husband or wife or son or daughter died that way. I think what a lot of Americans were reacting to was the unfamiliar experience of identifying strongly with victims.

    And I absolutely do think that feeling of identification is an intense emotional experience. It’s maybe dangerously intense sometimes, and not just in this instance. That’s one of the reasons that I think it’s important for those of us who weren’t there to remember that the intensity of the emotion is misleading.

    (I can’t tell if I’m crossing the sensitivity line here, btw. Feel free to slap me if I am, and I’ll shut up.)

  25. September 11, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    Sally, I think you’re right on. And I hope my post didn’t come across as inferring that no one but New Yorkers has a right to grieve. I hope all Americans felt touched by September 11th, because it was an American tragedy. It touched all of us by virtue of it happening on our soil, to our citizens. I’m simply trying to point out that proximity matters. As a parallel, I was horrified by the Columbine shootings. I watched them on TV and cried. I still get teary-eyed at “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLaughin because I’m a big baby, and I associate it with that event. But I would never argue that Columbine is an American tragedy that we all experienced equally. I would never think that putting a gun-control sticker on my car meant that my Columbine experience as the same as the people who attended that high school, or lived in that town. I would never think to use what happened at Columbine to forward a totally unrelated political interest. I would never show up in Colorado and go gawk and take pictures at the blood-stained walls of the high school cafeteria.

    That’s what I have a problem with. Not with the indisputable fact that people across the country (and across the world) felt very real and valid pain on September 11th.

  26. September 11, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    Here via Creek Running North. Thanks for this terrific post. It’s really helpful to be reminded how New Yorkers feel about this anniversary.

  27. September 11, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    What a beautiful and real post, Jill.

    I would add (for others): if you were in NYC that day and the days after, you could not sentimentalize the event and experiences. It’s easier to sentimentalize it if you were elsewhere. And I refer to ‘sentimentality’, which is not a synonym for ’emotional’ or ‘feelings’.

    Sentimentality is always a substitute emotion for other, unprocessed emotions. If you were here in NYC, there’s no way you can make it about patriotism, that’s a bullshit luxury emotion, a sentimental emotion. It smelled and looked like war, it smelled like death and horror, and those things can’t be represented otherwise.

    The victims were clear; and you could not easily project and substitute your own unacknowledged emotions as many proceeded to do. America now? I’m reminded of the AIDS quilt panel for Roy Cohn; it read: “Roy Cohn: Victim, Coward, Bully.:

    America: Victim, Coward, Bully.

    yrs, dharmadyke/b.dagger lee

  28. Julie
    September 11, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Definately Jill… I’m in NY, but a good five hours from the city. I was touched by what happened, and definately shed my share of tears. But in the end, I wasn’t there and I went back to life as usual within the week. We talked about it in a couple of my classes but by Thursday everything was pretty much normal. The only tangible effects I can think of are the fact I am still too scared to get on a plane, I was scared to drive over the George Washington Bridge when I drove to Long Island (but I did it!) and my fear of the subway when I visited Boston last year. I can’t imagine being on the front lines and I won’t pretend that my being glued to the TV all day compares.

  29. September 11, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    For New Yorkers, it wasn’t just that day, or just the experience of the towers collapsing. It was all the days after. The whole bleeping city was a shrine. Pictures of the dead were everywhere, on all the lampposts and scaffolding. And then people left flowers and candles, scattered on the sidewalks and even subway stations.

    The whole city changed. The skyline changed. The smell permeated lower Manhattan for weeks.

    Every day, there were funerals. A month after 9/11 I changed jobs and moved to an office a block from St. Patrick’s cathedral. Every morning, I listened to the bagpipes being played for some fireman or policeman who had died. Truly, life in New York for months was like living through one long funeral. (Which reminds me; in a recent issue of The New Yorker there is an insightful article called “The Long Funeral,” by John Homans. Highly recommended.)

    And then there was the fear. For weeks after, whenever we heard a plane, we’d all dash for the windows. I saw a co-worker faint from fear when she heard a rumor about gas in the subways. Her kids rode the subways to school.

    For months after, when two New Yorkers met who hadn’t seen each other in a while, after the “hi, how’ve you been?” the next question was, “did you lose anyone?”

    I watched the towers collapse from a window, in a high-rise office building on West 17th. I can’t say if I felt more or less emotion than someone else watching on television. Who can know that? It’s what happened the next several weeks that made it an entirely different experience, imo.

    I don’t doubt 9/11 had a huge emotional impact on the whole country, but it was not the same impact.

  30. September 11, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    Word, Maha.

    To offer some examples of the narcissistic, cliched, My 9/11 Story shit that I’m talking about, see here and here.

    I’m tempted to comment on her blog, but I’m abstaining. I so, so badly want to write, “Dear Elena, IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU.”

  31. zuzu
    September 11, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    I’m tempted to comment on her blog, but I’m abstaining. I so, so badly want to write, “Dear Elena, IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU.”

    I told someone at Table Talk that on 9/11 at the same time I was finally getting a phone call from a friend who worked in the towers. It didn’t go over very well. And people there had a really hard time with the concept that New Yorkers were going through something they weren’t, and were not going to get over it when it was convenient for them. There were a lot of accusations of “disaster territorialism.”

    In fact, I was told by someone in Seattle to get over it already. On the 15th or so, because I expressed anger at Bush’s failure to get in Marine One and show his damn face — this person told me that Clinton took four days to get to Seattle after their earthquake.

  32. September 12, 2006 at 7:00 am

    Even though they “just watched it on TV,” I think the people of Oklahoma City “get it.”

  33. zuzu
    September 12, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Nobody said they didn’t, Armagh.

    But you’re engaging in a tactic that I saw a lot back then — “What about this person? Are you going to say that they don’t have a right to feel bad about this?”

    And, without exception, it was never “this person” demanding validation for their own pain, but always someone who hadn’t been affected other than watching it on TV, and who hadn’t been through anything similar, using “this person’s” pain as a proxy for getting validation for their own.

    It’s not a goddamn competition, for crap’s sake.

  34. September 12, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    I know it’s not a competition, Zuzu, and I’m not engaging in a “tactic” either. I’m sorry I didn’t communicate my thought well enough to avoid my comment coming across the way that it did.

    I don’t know that there is any way, given my poor skills, that I can say what I meant without inadvertantly causing pain to you and Jill and any other New Yorkers, so I’m just going to let it go with that apology.

  35. Brooklyn Born
    September 12, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    Having grown up watching the towers being built, roaming downtown and all through the streets of my home throughout my youth and now middle age.

    Policemen, firemen, construction workers, office workers, traders, my family is just like any family, entrenched. Although entrenched, I never thought I felt entitled to own more of the tradgety than anyone else if that’s what is so eloquently laid out here.

    Does my cousin that spent days at the site passing buckets of debris out, own more?

    Or perhaps my son? NY National Guard, who no matter where they were that day, dropped everything to go to NYC to defend our great city, after all who was it that stood guard on the streets of our city and in our subways and offered that needed and welcomed security? Yes many were city “boys and girls” but I assure you many were not, yet they served.

    Ownership? I think not, a nation was struck, while to anyone from NYC there is only one place we ever reference as “the city”. We all know that NYC is a symbol of America as the towers themselves were.

    On that day I believe we were all New Yorkers.

    As an aside, I don’t have the balls yet to visit “there”, nor has my son been able to speak of his months of service that started around 1:30 that day.

  36. woodlawn
    September 13, 2006 at 3:44 am

    If you worked at the WTC complex or are a NYC cop or firefighter (or their immediately family) then you should remeber 9/11 and memorialize your friends and family however you want. Everyone else, including the 8 million other New Yorkers, should just give it a fucking rest.

  37. zuzu
    September 13, 2006 at 9:56 am

    Easy for you to say from thousands of miles away, asshole.

  38. September 13, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Thanks for the additional hits Jill. See my additional comments there.

  39. Nora
    September 14, 2006 at 12:52 am

    What about the people connected to the Pentagon? Do they not count?

  40. zuzu
    September 14, 2006 at 9:21 am

    Here we go…

    Nora, please come up with some shred of evidence that anyone here has said that the people connected to the Pentagon don’t count.

    The Pentagon attacks were simply not as relentlessly politicized and appropriated. People didn’t watch the Pentagon attacks happen live on TV, so they don’t claim that they know just what it was like to be there. The Pentagon is a military installation, so the Bush people couldn’t generate the same kind of emotional manipulation that they could from the destruction of civilian office towers, because “attack on our military” just doesn’t have the same fear potential as “attack on our nation.” Also because it’s a military installation, cameras and the press were kept away.

    The Pentagon is also a ways out of town, instead of right smack dab in the middle of a city, so the disruption to the life of the city was a lot less than it was in New York.

    Lastly, Jill is writing from her own experience as a resident of New York City who was there when the towers fell. She wasn’t a witness to the Pentagon attacks, and she wasn’t in rural Pennsylvania when the plane went down. In keeping with her stance that it’s inappropriate to appropriate experiences you were not a part of, she has not tried to speak to the experiences of people at the Pentagon, because she was not there.

  41. September 14, 2006 at 12:38 pm
  42. zuzu
    September 14, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    So much for taking it all in stride.

  43. piny
    September 14, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    There were a lot of accusations of “disaster territorialism.”

    Holy shit. Is that verbatim?

  44. September 14, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    Can we actually read the post, people? Nowhere do I say that only NYC residents are allowed to grieve or to feel attached to the event. From what I wrote:

    I hope that all Americans do feel some ownership over September 11th. I hope we all think about it today. I hope that we all grieve.

    I’m not sure how much clearer I can possibly be.

  45. zuzu
    September 14, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    Oh, yes. It was very, very ugly.

    And a lot of what Nora above was doing.

    And one guy who went off on an extended fantasy about how he wished he were there, so he could rush into the burning buildings so he could feel alive. This guy was no idiot, either — he’s a physicist. I found that incredibly offensive, and told him so. And got accused (by other posters) of disaster territorialism, and trying to tell people that they couldn’t feel anything.

  46. piny
    September 14, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    “Disaster territorialism.” Right. Sure, the tornado destroyed your house, but didn’t the tornado really destroy every house?

    Some feelings, you should keep to yourself.

  47. Eowyn
    September 14, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    I live in the upper mid-west. I have spent quite a few hours reading the short bios of the people murdered on 9/11 in NYC, DC, and PA. Those of us distanced from these murders either geographically or without friends and relatives among the victims will never know the depth of despair that those who witnessed it first hand have felt. The towers were the work place of thousands of people from across the country and around the world. All we could do was watch as the firefighters went into the buildings and the victims came out of the buildings. We were completely helpless and many of us wish to go to NYC to pay our respects. But you are wrong in blaming us for the tourist trap it has become. Those are New York vendors selling the t-shirts, selling the kitsch. Perhaps there should be laws in the city that prohibits the selling of all 9/11 memorabalia within Manhattan. As far as the “I heart NY t-shirts,” they were around for years prior to the attack and they will be around for many many more years. It was a publicity/tourism conception that goes way back and has nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. You do not have to live in the five buroughs to be fond of NY. When I go to DC/Arlington/Bethesda- the Penagon is on my ‘tourist’ list along with the museums and other landmarks. I’ve never been to NYC but when I do eventually get there, the gravesite of thousands will be on my list along with the Empire State Building. Auschwitz is also on my list. Pearl Harbor is another place I wish to visit before I die. Historically, the places which mean the most to all people are those which represent either great tragedy or great triumph. We cannot ignore that fact. If you were on vacation in, say, Texas, would you go check out the wheat field in the panhandle or the Alamo? If in Georgia, would you be interested in the peach trees or the path that brought down Atlanta? If in Montana, would it be a rye field or the Little Big Hole Battlefield?

    This post is long enough

  48. zuzu
    September 14, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    But you are wrong in blaming us for the tourist trap it has become. Those are New York vendors selling the t-shirts, selling the kitsch.

    Sure. But somebody’s buying them.

  49. Brooklyn Born
    September 15, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Wow lot’s of emotion here from a broad sprectrum of folks, nothing fell on me that day… but it still changed my whole outlook on life… I, somehow, am still unable to take the thing in nor is that my intention to take it “all” in, really I don’t think that’s at all possible but I’m grateful that others can still offer perspective. At least the sane ones!

    I am not ashamed that this has been a topic of some hours in therapy and in this i’m not alone. For me I still dwell on the finality of it all, no more chances to set things straight, what of the fight the night before? no kiss to make up, no chance to say a kind word, the parents with whom there had been things left unsaid?

    I have a gut wrenching ache inside that does overwhelm me over all this, not only for my family member, his children and wife that get no second chances but for all the voices that were silenced. Damn even the voices of those who worked there in the days and months after have been forever changed.

    Forgive me if I digress if that’s what I’m doing but in five years I’ve never really talked about it openly.

    So just to sum this up, while I don’t know all of the nearly 3000 voices silenced that day, knowing one fireman was more than enough, I don’t know all of the wokers who dug through the ruins, but knowing some them is more than enough, I don’t know all of the cop’s in manhattan that day, knowing some of them is enough.

    For all of the brave national guard, my son and his wife who went there that day, who saw things that no one should see and have been forever changed.

    If a nation feels as one with them, I’m all for it.


    ditto on zuzu’s comments in #40

  50. Me - Not Jill
    September 16, 2006 at 6:23 am

    What a tool

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