Thoughts on this September 11

People talk about vivid memories on days like these. I can’t say that my memories are like that. I don’t remember what I was wearing, or what I ate that day, but there are some things that stick, and the historical timelines that go around this day every year help put some missing pieces together.

I remember being in the lab, and having a lot of trouble getting internet access. I didn’t know that a plane had hit the North Tower at 8:46 that morning, but I’m sure that the news spreading was the reason the internet was all clogged up. I probably assumed it was some technical glitch somewhere, and I’m sure it frustrated my morning routine, which involved reading some news, going through email, and maybe playing a game or two of something online before starting an experiment. I’m not sure why, but I called my postdoc mentor for something. He wasn’t in his office, but we were all comfortable calling him at home (he even had a separate phone number for his home office that we used generously). I suspect that I was watching the clock, waiting for it to be 9:00 AM before calling, because that doesn’t seem too early to bother somebody at home. He answered, and before I could ask him whatever it was that I called for, he asked if we saw what happened in New York, and said something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. He was watching morning TV when it happened, and couldn’t believe we didn’t know about it. It seemed like a fluke accident, and I remember him saying it was a small plane. While on the phone, the second plane hit and it was clear that it wasn’t an accident and that they weren’t small planes. Another postdoc and I left the lab and met up with his wife (who I don’t think was his wife at the time) and went looking for a television to watch. We found one at a nearby hotel bar (which, oddly, was open that early in the morning…maybe they served breakfast), and I remember watching the South Tower fall. I can’t remember if we stayed long enough to see the North Tower fall or not, but I know that it took me a long time to get home because a bomb threat closed 30th Street Station, so I had to walk to Suburban station to get the train home.

Other than that, what I remember most was how polite everybody was. I rode that train most days of the week, and I can’t remember a time when people were so calm, so polite, so willing to let the other guy go first or take the seat or get on the escalator.

I also remember the rage that I felt. I remember playing ultimate that night (maybe the night after) with friends. Before the game we all stopped as a team to talk about what happened and what we hoped for, and I remember saying something along the lines of hoping that Israel gets a shiny new and very large parking lot nearby in the next week or two (my dumbass way of saying that I wanted us to carpet bomb some country near Israel and turn it into a parking lot). My misplaced rage was palpable and if I didn’t have a pregnant wife, I would have seriously considered signing up to fight that day because I wanted people to die.

I’m not proud of that. As much as I understand the need to “never forget,” I don’t want that to be a call to war. I wrote about this before here and I feel the same way as then. I don’t want that to be a call to stripping privacy from citizens. I don’t want that to be a justification for bigotry against people who had nothing to do with any of it (like the millions who I wanted to carpet bomb that day). There’s also my complicated feeling about people seeking persecution a little too much (I put some flesh on that here), making it especially conflicting that “never forget,” a holocaust-related slogan, is now used here. So let’s move away from that stuff, but allow ourselves to mourn those who we lost. Let’s tell our kids and their kids the stories of heroes that day. Let’s remember them fondly. Most important, let’s do everything we can to be a beacon of light and good so that nobody could possibly feel such anger toward us again. I know that’s not realistic, but many of the best goals in life aren’t.

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