I had not planned on writing about the ten year anniversary of the tragedy that befell our nation on September 11, 2001, but as I was out picking strawberries on this beautiful fall day I couldn’t help but revisit those days in my mind. September 11th was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten and in our stunned state we did our best to be excited with her. Inside though, we were horrified and on edge, not knowing if the attacks were over or if the terror was just beginning.
That afternoon I sat outside on the deck of a coffee shop with my sister. Usually on a sunny, calm afternoon Beluga Lake is busy with float plane traffic and the scheduled flights of the commuter planes taking off and landing within earshot of downtown. The quiet of that day seemed magnified. The horror of what it meant to the people in the twin towers, or on flight 93 hovered on the edges of our conversation, but it was too big to comprehend in that moment. It would take a while for the magnitude of it all to sink in.
Just a couple days after planes started to fly again I took a trip to Las Vegas to meet up with some family members for a mini-reunion. Las Vegas had never been a destination place for me, and it seemed like the wrong place to be going at such a time, but I had the tickets and it had been a long time since I’d seen my family, so I went. I was stunned at the sheer number of people there, although my sisters who had been there before assured me that it was quiet in comparison to their past visits. I was also stunned by the shops in all directions. Every single one had a display of United States flag paraphernalia for sale, from stars and stripes sun visors to Bin Laden Wanted Dead or Alive t-shirts. I was impressed and appalled at how quickly the marketers were in action, turning a national tragedy into an excuse to buy trinkets.
Within the first hour of all of us meeting up at the Luxor hotel and casino someone in our group bought a US flag lapel pin for each one of us. I couldn’t wear mine. At the time I couldn’t even articulate why it felt like the wrong thing for me to do. All I knew was that it felt too easy. I was in mourning and to me the lapel pin wasn’t a sign of mourning. It would have made more sense for me to wear black, or better yet be at home with my husband and children, holding them close.
Las Vegas isn’t my kind of place, so even if tragedy hadn’t just struck our country there’s a good chance that I would have been wandering around in a daze. But the noise, the gambling, the shopping, it all felt misguided. I fear that I wasn’t good company for those few days.
What I kept waiting for, and never got, was for someone to suggest to the United States citizens that we band together for the good of our country, not by consuming more, not by spending more money, but by cutting back. There was a moment when that message would have been received. Great strides could have been made on making our country energy independent or better yet on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels altogether.
All that happened on that day ten years ago still fills me with sadness. In addition to that though, I’m filled with sadness by much of what has happened (or not happened) since then. The lives that were lost on that day should never be forgotten. Neither should the lives of the Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have died in the aftermath. Who pays them tribute? Their lives are no less valuable that those of the American’s who died on September 11, 2001, or less valuable than those of our service members who have died fighting for the country they love.
The issues and emotions surrounding September 11th are infinitely complicated. They cannot be summed up with lapel pins or a special Facebook status. And I have to wonder, are we safer than we were on September 1st, 2001? Have the wars and the lives lost brought any resolution? Will they ever? Wouldn’t our money and resources be better spent on making our country healthier and more self-reliant than we’ve ever been before? Or, is that even the goal?