Archive for September, 2010

Nine years after 9/11

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Every year now I wonder how to react to this new national day of remembrance. Of course I think back to the vivid events of the day, of where I was, the orange and yellow Las Vegas daylight filling the hotel room as we closed the curtains to get a better view of the unbelievable images on the television. I remember the sick recognition as the towers fell, noting how all of those modern CGI action and disaster movies actually got it right. It was unreal, a movie, an effect, a thing on the television. More so, though, I remember the absolute uncertainty of that day, intermixed with fear and a sudden erosion in a social trust that none of us realized had been so fragile.

Today, nine years later, I don’t remember what life was like on 9/10/01. I can recall events, people, feelings, but life, the intertwining of the personal and social, was abruptly redefined. It didn’t have to be. The fear did not have to persist. It was immediately leveraged by a government that was already failing just months into its first term. We were told to watch out, to beware of people who might be up to no good, to trust no one, to go shopping in the name of patriotism, to duct tape our windows. We went to war with an idea, even though we didn’t have any ideas of our own to battle that idea. Instead of taking the event as a slap in the face, as a moment to wake up and consider what it means to be an American citizen, to draft a vision statement for our society, instead of this we turned it into a fight, we gave in and defined ourselves through fear.

And we continue to do this.

Fear of those who are different. Fear of conservatives. Fear of liberals. Fear of an unknown future. Fear of strangers who are neighbors, our own citizens. Fear of the current definition of failure. Fear of ourselves.

This is not the lesson that I choose to take, not the way I choose to remember 9/11. Thousands of innocent people died that day, people who I didn’t know and probably wouldn’t know, working in offices. Those people had no choice in the matter. They were pure victims, and, honestly, they were no more patriotic than anyone else. In the midst of the disaster, though, there were other people who chose to risk and sacrifice their lives in order to help. They were in a profession defined by the will to help others. They were certainly patriots, as those jobs are focused on strengthening the fabric and infrastructure of our society. At the core, they were doing their jobs.

This is what those heroes did: they leveraged their own fear, accepted it, and moved ahead in order to do a job. Most of us do not have jobs that require the suspension of life-threatening fear. We do, however, live with other fears. Some fears are incredibly minor. I fear that I might be hit by a taxi as I cross the street. I do not simply stand at the corner, though, paralyzed. I work with that fear, contain it, use my better judgement, and get on with my task of walking. Other times, we fear the repercussions of confronting a person who holds some type of power over us. A boss or partner, a child or customer. For some people, we just don’t want to go there, don’t want to open the can of worms. That fear is not the same thing as respect. I respect some of my professional peers and superiors because they are smart and often have the ability to take control of situations, to think globally, to bring something new to the table. In return, I am treated with a similar respect. It doesn’t work that way when you fear someone. Fear is a form of disrespect, and it shows. It is an intoxicating invitation to power. Think of how you feel about someone who is, in some way, afraid of you. You either leverage that fear to manipulate that person, or you tolerate and never really take that person seriously.

The lesson that I choose to take from 9/11 is this: move past your fears and get to work. We all have a job to do. Yes, we have professions. But we also have a personal job, a mission, a reason for being in this society, on this planet. Maybe you are not in touch with that mission, but it is there, waiting for you, ready to connect with you. If I am to honor those who died on 9/11, I should learn from them, from the heroes who forged ahead and did a job. Of course I feel sadness for my fellow citizens who died. And I feel sadness for the erosion of our freedom (conducted under the new-speak moniker of “Freedom”). But I also think that I can make the effort to contain my daily fears, to put them in perspective, and to do what I am supposed to be doing. We all have great things to accomplish while we’re alive. Fear will always be there, but fear is not the mission.