by Matthew Keough
As 9/11 moves further into the past, I find I’m having a harder, not easier, time with these anniversaries. I suppose that’s because it’s become more of an event than a remembrance.
The 9/11 Memorial itself has a gift shop where you can buy official merchandise of the terror attack that killed thousands of innocent people for the crime of showing up to work on time. Seeing a tourist step past wearing a 9/11 Memorial ball cap never stops being repulsive.
But it’s not their fault. This is our city and this is apparently how we choose to remember.
Twenty years ago, some 3,000 innocent and unsuspecting Americans died at the hands of Islamists in the name of a Holy War we didn’t know we were in. Less than a month ago, I was being lectured through my television by adherents of that very same ideology, who are now members of the U.S. House of Representatives, about my country’s numerous crimes against Islam and our need to atone.
Twenty years ago, 3,000 innocent and unsuspecting Americans died because the wealthiest and mightiest country in the history of humanity failed to protect its own citizens, and rather than apologize for decades of selling us out to foreign interests, and pandering to professional victims, and refusing to protect our border and vet those who cross it, our politicians chose to send us to two wars that still have not ended.
I spent the day in Manhattan on a barstool watching the news between a businessman from Columbia and a man covered so completely in gray soot and ash and dust I couldn’t tell his age or his complexion or what he was wearing. When I finally made it back to Brooklyn my friends and I gathered at our local bar to see who wasn’t going to show up. The next morning it looked like it had snowed on our block from the ash that floated across the river.
Every year I am reminded of those I knew who didn’t show back up that day. And I reminded that, while I was closer to this than most, there are many more I know who will feel the way I do now, every day of their lives. There are people who lost far more than a sense of normalcy.
Far be it for me to tell anyone how to think or feel, but in my estimation, the best way to remember 9/11 is to remember it as a smoldering mass grave, not the two shining towers of light they will shine into the sky today.
Remember it for the children who never knew their parents, not for the patriotic songs the politicians will pretend to find moving during the ceremonies.
Remember it for the people who chose to leap to their death rather than burn and those pleading for help on their phones and those who rushed in to help them only to share the same fate, not for the talking heads who will talk about “our resilience” as if we are all in the this together.
Remember it for those who, less than two months ago, went up to the halls of the very same government who failed us on 9/11 and asked for help with the debilitating and fatal illness they contracted as a result of their heroism that day and the days after. And remember how they were told by the same people who helped cause this tragedy that—while we have plenty of money for foreign aid to help the citizens of other countries, and plenty of money to feed and house and educate anyone who happens to saunter across our still-unprotected border—they’d have to sit and wait and perhaps beg before help would be given.
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Matthew Keough is a construction manager and writer in New York City.