As You Were: Culture after 9/11, by Lee Siegel
This time last year I started reflecting on what September 11, 2001 did in my own world as it shattered our nation. I couldn’t find words, and any words I did find sounded trite and cliche in light of the immense loss that occurred. But as I read this article, I was quickly brought back to my high school cafeteria as we tried to eat lunch to the sound of students singing, “It’s the end of the world as we know it…” I don’t know that they really knew what they were singing, but I do think one thing was clear on that day: our world would be different. I didn’t know it then, but my world would be different.
Maybe it wouldn’t change as drastically as it did for those who lost loved ones on that day, like my aunt and uncle’s neighbor in Central New Jersey. Or for neighborhoods like those mentioned in J.R. Moehringer’s, The Tender Bar, which depicts a city on Long Island, where numerous families lost fathers and mothers on one day and changed the community forever. We all have our own stories, we all have those pictures from that day which will be forever imprinted on our minds, and we all have the emotions which will never leave our hearts. For me, it was the beginning of understanding that this world, the world that I had experienced for fifteen years, was not safe, predictable, and impenetrable as the illusion I was blessed (or cursed) to believe. I think this realization happens for all of us at different times – children whose parents divorce at an early age or a young person who looses a loved one close to them. For me, nothing terrible like that had happened.
What began as a “boring” day in high school, with nothing to look forward to other than hanging out with friends later that week, ended with an evening of falling asleep in front of the television, wondering what this means for our country’s uncertain future. To be honest (and perhaps mildly inappropriate), the confusion and fear was seasoned with excitement. I could finally articulate this piece of the emotional puzzle upon reading Siegel’s article. In it, he writes of the response of British young people at the beginning of the first world war. Siegel writes,
They recall the whoop of joy that went up from the youthful elites of England… For them the war was, in the words of Robert Graves, “goodbye to all that”—the “that” being the dullness and mediocrity of a civilisation that had, in their jaundiced eyes, grown old and stale.
I feel as though the word, “excitement” should hardly be used to describe emotions at times like these, and I find it strange that these events would elicit such a response. But as I reflect now I see that this excitement stemmed from the thrust to join the ranks of world reality, rather than America’s seemingly arrogant isolation. This reality is one of uncertainty, and one where no day is “boring.” In the past ten years, I never once thought a day to be “boring,” because I knew that anything could happen to make that change. Instead, I began to be thankful for the days I was given, with the people I was blessed to be with.
I don’t know if Lee Siegel is right, that 9/11 didn’t have a dramatic impact on our culture. But I do know that this day was one which began to change how I live my life and shape the way I view my world.