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September 11 Attacks Remembered As Emotional Milestone, Not Political

New York Commemorates The 12th Anniversary Of The September 11 Terror Attacks
First responders gather next to Ground Zero for a ceremony for 9/11 victims on September 11, 2013 in New York City. The nation is commemorating the anniversary of the 2001 attacks which resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and one crash landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Following the attacks in New York, the former location of the Twin Towers has been turned into the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

I can honestly say I never bought into the politicization of the September 11 attacks. Not for a second. Yes, once the facts were known, I realized it was an act of war which required a political and, likely, military response from our country. But I never thought of it as a holy war and I damn sure never thought it justified any fundamental change in the way we live our daily lives.

In truth, I thought of it as a wake-up call. Not so much politically, but rather socially, societally. The shared pain and grief and disbelief was as much a new thing to us as the attack itself, which struck me as unfortunate. It seemed odd to me to feel, for the first time, so close to strangers.

I remember thinking, just days after the attacks, that despite the horrors of the day, we might, as a country, ultimately benefit from being knocked off center, from seeing, with undeniable clarity, that we are not special, that we are indeed vulnerable, as vulnerable as any humans who have ever lived. And that we will always need each other.

Likewise, the shared experience of witnessing individual acts of immeasurable bravery and courage might also, I thought, bring us to a higher level of understanding what we are capable of. That life is not a zero-sum game; that others’ achievements might, also, lift us up.

I made the mistake of sharing these thoughts with people at the time. Not a good idea. Most folks at that time weren’t looking so much for perspective as they were for someone to hit.

Twelve years later, my feelings have not changed. The takeaway from the September 11 attacks for me is a specific, genetic-level memory of the pain and losses suffered – and the heart-bursting acts of bravery committed — on that day and the days that followed.

I don’t think about the bad guys, or the Holy War on Terror, or religion, or George W. Bush, or shock and awe, or any of the countless, sickening branded by-products of that day.

For me, the legacy of September 11 is one of emotional, not political, extremes – a permanent, visceral, reminder of how horror and beauty can share the same space in our lives. It’s a legacy that teaches, rather than destroys.

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