Nine Years Later

It has been nine long years since that wretched morning, watching New York burn on live television. I was thirteen at the time. I’m now twenty-two.

It’s been about fourteen hours since I started this post, and I still can’t quite articulate what I feel about this day. I’m not sure if I am capable of doing so. There are… a lot of things I want to say, and some are somewhat contradictory.

I don’t think I’ve really gotten around to expressing this: I’m actually proud to be an American. Proud to be in a country – or at least in a part of a country – where Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream isn’t so far from realization. Anywhere I walk, be it across a campus or downtown in the city or just to the local Safeway, there are a thousand shades and hues of skin colors and ideologies and faiths. Sometimes, it’s a little depressing how all-consuming the monoculture is – sometimes, it’s a little irritating when cultures clash as they sometimes do. But nobody here doubts for a second that the Indian programmer or Ecuadorian liquor store owner or the Vietnamese politician is anything other than American.

Maybe growing up in the Bay Area’s left me a little sheltered, in a way. I expect America to be defined by its convergence of cultures. That sense of national unity in the wake of the World Trade Centers’ collapse wasn’t so much a change for me as it was a strengthening of something I held to be true. Regardless of our faults and our sometimes bloody history, to be American in America was to be amidst a community not defined by its shared traditions or cultural allegiances, but by the common grounds of higher ideals: that we should all have the chance to prosper and live freely, regardless of the baggage we come with, or if we came with anything at all.

That’s not such a bad dream.

So nine years after that fleeting unity, and I can’t quite articulate my… emptiness. Since when, and why, has the dream gone so dark? Since when has my country turned against its own ideals? We attack our neighbors now, for fleeting resemblances to those that had attacked us. In the name of security and defiance and paranoia, we define what is “American” ever-tighter, ever-stricter, until all that remains is “whatever doesn’t remind us of the darkness outside our borders.”

Perhaps it is as simple as that the act of defiance is indistinguishable in function from an act of fear. We have never really, truly recovered from the wreckages of 9/11. It weighs upon us like a dark star, a black hole, holding us in an orbital holding pattern, redefining everything by its proximity to its inky gaze.

“Never forget!” we cried, as the embers burned and the dust slowly settled – but maybe the only real way to win against the terror afflicted upon us is to slowly forget. To let that fear dissipate into historical apathy, until it is only a twinge in the hearts of those that lived through those years. If we hold the jagged shards of Ground Zero too closely to our hearts, we risk stabbing ourselves.

I want my nation back. I want my America back. This twisted land of paranoia and fearmongering isn’t the world I grew up in. This, beyond anything, is why I can’t give up on politics. These memories are, beyond anything else, why I’ll continue to engage the world I live in, no matter how dark it gets.

“Politics is the art of controlling your environment,” right, Hunter? Every vote, every voice, every debate counts. We can either turn over in our beds, covering ourselves in our sheets as we mutter about a cruel world stacked against us, with all the power vested in those that would plot against our wellbeing… or realize that we allowed them to have that power. It is our apathy that allows those that prey upon our fears and our insecurities to gain such might. In that we collectively chose to be powerless, chose to be spectators, that they’ve been allowed to gain such influence. That the darkness has encroached upon the American dream.

Alone, I can’t light more than a single flame against the shadows. But even alone, I’ll light it. Not because there is nobility in defiance, but so that I’ll remember warmth.

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~ by Gonzo Mehum on September 11, 2010.

One Response to “Nine Years Later”

  1. I hear you. Although from the slightly older perspective, and having been raised in a place that was definitely not diverse in shades or in cultures.

    There was something beautiful in the response – sure, there were the people who thundered that sin and damnation caused this and God’s wrath was being visited upon us, but those people were being politely told to go wank somewhere else.

    And I wonder whether Iraq changed that. Maddow and Olbermann both reminded us that the President during that time was very consistent about saying “not at war with Islam.” But something tells me that the invasion of Iraq turned our willing belief into cynicism and hypocrisy accusations. And then the economy crashed, and Obama was elected, and now our fears about one thing are being projected in another.

    It almost makes me want to sat we never had the good thing in the beginning, but it was there. We just lost it somewhere.

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