This commentary originally appeared at BeaumontEnterprise.com
Tomorrow, America will join in a collective requiem for Sept. 11, 2001, the day our world changed.
But it’s the wrong day to mourn.
For me, it is not the dead of 9/11 who haunt me, although my spirit genuinely aches for them. It is the death of the world I knew on 9/10. Five years ago today, I lived more outside the walls that have suddenly sprung up around me. If that was naïve, I was comfortable in my naivete. I miss it.
So it is Sept. 10, 2001, for which I grieve. I want that day back as much as I would like to restore the dead people, the damaged lives and the shattered contentment of the next morning. As we re-convene this national funeral for the fifth time, I choose to remember America as it was on Sept. 10, not what it became on Sept. 11.
What changed in those 24 hours when “everything changed”? Many things.
For one, we became a suspicious society. We began to see ghosts. Caution and fear trumped everything. We came to believe that salvation and victory will be found in our own library records, phone calls and Google searches. Surreal conspiracies took root and flourished. We can’t find the real monsters who caused our indirect pain, so we look for their shadows under the bed.
We lost optimism. Things seemed to be going so well. Only 11 years after we watched the Berlin Wall come crashing down and began to dream of a warm peace where there had once been a Cold War, two more structures came crashing down and buried our dream.
The WTC attacks melted the tenuous glue that held us together in America. The radicalized relationships were deplorable on 9/10; they became intolerable too soon after 9/11. In America, it’s become nearly impossible to disagree without being disagreeable.
We haven't felt truly safe since Sept. 10, but we began to feel safer only behind our imaginary fortress walls. We suddenly began to worry more about who was welcome in our land. As if gripped by a collective agoraphobia, we stopped venturing too far afield -- physically or intellectually -- as if the horizon were the beginning of a danger zone.
We breathed in more hate, the deadliest dust from the collapsing towers. On Sept. 10, many radicalized Arabs and Muslims believed America always hated them, but frankly, they were not truly on the radar of most common Americans. At 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time on Sept. 11, 2001, their misperceptions became reality. And it’s difficult to see how we will ever be able to declare a clear victory, or even how the world can survive a defeat.
Not every defeat contains a hidden victory. Not every storm cloud has a silver lining. Sometimes, we simply embrace the good that follows evil as reassurance that humans are basically resilient and virtuous. Of course, we wouldn’t need such proof if humans truly were resilient and virtuous, but faith is a funny thing.
Perhaps this particular evil would have visited sooner or later anyway. Whether it settles in like dust or blasts through like a tempest, we cannot avoid it forever. We can only build our homes and our hearts strong enough to weather it when it comes, and hope the damage is reparable.
True survivors of extreme adversity — war, a life-threatening disease, rape, murder, disaster, childhood abuse and terrorism, to name a few — are able to repair themselves. The rest die physically, emotionally or both. We must survive.
We may mourn 9/ 10, but we live in a post-9/11 world. That’s the reality and there’s no going back. Yes, we desperately want to feel the earth beneath our feet again, to dig our toes deep in it, to stand up on our own while we touch someone. As we learned five years and a day ago, solid ground isn’t so solid, and it might be an utter illusion. No American today truly believes the earth won’t shift beneath him unexpectedly ... again … some random morning.
But if solid ground is just an illusion, might life be just one long freefall? Can we count on justice to be delivered every time, just to neatly close the circle? If, like gravity itself, evil is a force of nature, can we avoid a freefall for a whole lifetime?
Probably not. But we can acknowledge that it’s a messy world, and humans weren’t intended to live behind stone walls, so we must always seek justice even if it eludes us, and find our place in the chaos … or not truly live at all.
So it makes sense, on so many levels: Mourn today more than tomorrow.