Observations by Anne Bahr Thompson
Over the past week, I’ve been listening to the personal stories of victims of the crash on the World Trade Center on the radio. Although 9/11 nearly instantly became an event that connected New York with America and America with the rest of the world, albeit each briefly, local media coverage over the past few days reminded me that coming of age events, which characterize a generation, are actually personal moments that reverberate further.
As expected, many of the stories I have heard have filled me with mournfulness and contemplation. More importantly, though, the narratives have communicated a message of resilience, optimism and belief in the future. Many children of those who were killed have been determined to right the injustice of 9/11 and fulfill their potential in varying ways. Such qualities of passion, generosity and virtue mingled with rebellion are inherent in the American consciousness and uniquely characterize the American ideal of freedom. From nearly it’s inception, the US as a nation has felt a responsibility to play a role in human history. Our founding fathers had a vision of offering people the possibility of equal self-esteem.
Yet, over the past ten years, society and culture have become more contradictory and polarized rather than united. As we grow more interconnected and codes of conduct are relinquished, we simultaneously seek to individuate, to leave our mark and stand out through the unique expression of our individual identities. We join forces virtually to change things for the good of the community and the good of the world while at the same time our focus on developing self-esteem moves away from the self into self-serving achievement and greed.
As the world turns upside down and the pace of coming of age events is accelerating, the volume of headlines and tweets is on high. We live in an era of soundbites and shorthand, which by nature means we may miss or ignore the underlying messages and the individual stories that make events meaningful. The shorthands for September 11th and the 16 acres that form the World Trade Center - 9/11 and Ground Zero - have become etched in the American and world psyche and, to some degree in so doing, have allowed America and the world at large to rely on stereotypes when addressing crises and assessing one another.
911 is the number for emergency calls, clearly, purposefully chosen as a date for terror. But, as a numeric symbol cum name used to describe the tragedy that happened on September 11th, perhaps 911 has placed the consciousness of the nation in a permanent state of emergency and, over the course of the War on Terror, facilitated the erosion of so many of the freedoms embraced by our Bill of Rights. Perhaps it has allowed commentators across the globe to speak out against America unchecked and use US narcissism and greed as the scapegoat for all acts of terror and economic decline. And, perhaps, most importantly, it has allowed us to forget that forgiveness is an act of individuals, not nations, and that humility is needed to forgive.
With respect to Ground Zero, the name comes from warfare and, as most everyone knows, signifies the target of a missile or bomb. Associated with the attack on the World Trade Center it acknowledges the devastation that occurred on September 11th, yet does not recognize not the opportunity for revitalization and the promise of recovery. And, without accepting the possibilities the future holds how can we move forward and unite as Americans and citizens of the world? As Mayor Bloomberg so rightly stated this week, “The time has come for us to call those 16 acres what they are: The World Trade Center and the National September 11th Memorial and Museum….Let us remember not only the agony and anguish of the attacks, but how we channeled our pain into something positive and powerful.” In other words, let us support the promise of freedom our Founding Fathers ingrained into the American character.
In ten years from now, I’m hopeful that we’ll remember the Tenth Anniversary of September 11th as the day that reminded Americans and people across the world that coming of age events and national characters are formed by individual acts and individual narratives.
NB. It would be irresponsible if I didn’t acknowledge that the events of September 11th also directly impacted Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA, and in turn honor the individual acts of courage and narratives of the victims of those site as well.