They say that time heals all wounds. I think they’re mostly right. On September 11, 2011, the ten-year anniversary of that horrible day, I decided that it was time, for me at least, to move forward and heal the wound. Over the years, the anniversary of 9/11 got a little easier for me to face. The first year, I remember I had a dentist appointment. And I remember thinking to myself, “Who on earth would be going to the dentist today?? I should cancel this.” The entire day was uneasy and incredibly depressing. I cried most of the day. By then I was living in California, having moved here only a few weeks prior. Far, far away from a past life in my hometown of Philadelphia, where my then-partner was missing for a few hours having supposed to be in North Jersey that morning. Where everyone was evacuated. Where, close by in NY and DC, several friends and family members were somewhere in the chaos. Where cars sat for weeks in commuter lots afterward with no owner ever to return. Where I sat for almost a full week in front of the television, almost too paralyzed to move. Where, a week later, a low-flying black hawk helicopter over my work set off a full-fledged panic attack. The following several years were similar. It was like there was a dark cloud in the sky above the entire country, and I couldn’t quite shake a PTSD-like reactions. By 2011, the anxiety about being in high-rises and on planes, about any loud, sudden sounds, began to dissipate a bit. I was able to put out of my mind the crippling thoughts of disabled people stuck in stairwells with nowhere to go.
Instead of being depressed, I was angry. I was angry that our government officials — most of whom are elected by only about 10 to 12 percent of the people since so few people bother to vote — were so easily able to use this horrible tragedy as a pogo stick to quickly ram bad policy down the throat of the country. I was angry that they took advantage of a vulnerable moment of a nation to push an agenda. An agenda that ultimately cost significantly more lives than the tragedy of 9/11, as well as the reputation, diplomatic opportunities, and good-faith efforts to do almost anything for the next decade. And I remain angry that we have to endure the ramifications of those bad policies today. I remain angry that so many people are so willing to blindly follow these officials under the guise of security, avoiding further tragedy, and securing liberty. We all know what Ben Franklin thought about the relationship between security and liberty.
I learned a lot from that day. I learned that in an emergency, I should put a message on my phone that tells people that I’m OK since they likely won’t get through (Hearing that message on a dear friend’s phone in NYC is something I remember to this day). I still look for potential escape routes when I’m anywhere new, but these days it’s more out of fear of a random shooting, which, sadly, is far, far more common and likely to happen. Of course, I still remember the smells, sounds, and sights from that day. But I don’t let them overcome me anymore, which is easy for me to say since I didn’t lose a loved one that day. Time has healed.
I originally wrote this in 2015 and return to it every year, as well as friends’ and family’s personal recounting of that day in NYC, DC, and places in between. Since then, I’ve been disheartened to learn that today’s high school — and possibly college — students who weren’t even alive yet in September 2011 may or may not be learning about 9/11 and its ramifications that we still feel today. And if they are, there is no standard across education. For all of our “never forgets,” we sure make it easy for some to forget, even less than 20 years after.