I’m not a flag-waver. I don’t subscribe to the “Love it or leave it” school of bumper sticker patriotism. I refused, as a sophomore in high school, to say the Pledge of Allegiance, in dissent of both the early morning, drone-like recitation of a post-Civil-War-slash-pre-Red-Scare oath of loyalty and the “under God” interference in my public school education. I felt there were better ways to express one’s faith (or lack thereof) and commitment to liberty and justice for all.
But on September 11, 2001, my tears streamed red, white and blue, too.
We were one nation. We were indivisible.
With the exception of the unfortunate and truly inexcusable acts of retaliation towards Muslim Americans, we did all come together in the days, weeks and months after the attacks. We all remember the reports of “New Yorkers getting along” and doing otherwise normal, mundane things like saying hello to each other on the street. It was a new America (albeit one that was constantly reminded to keep on shopping).
And, of course, we all remember where we were or what we were doing when we heard the news. Jenny was in Gainesville, Florida preparing for an interview with the University of Florida — an interview that was not rescheduled, by the way…she went through with it, despite it all. I was in Lexington, Kentucky, where we lived and I worked as local host of NPR’s All Things Considered on WUKY-FM. In fact, the station recently posted an interview about my role in covering 9/11, including a couple of the local news stories I reported, as part of a series on the 10th anniversary.
Which brings me to the true point of this post: Here in Pretoria, 9,000 miles from Chicago, there is very little chatter about the anniversary, at least that we are hearing. Granted, we get three-and-a-half channels on our rabbit-eared TV, but none of the newscasts we’ve caught have mentioned it. There was a story on the SABC News website titled “Weary Americans to honour 9/11 victims” but a.) this headline says nothing of the anniversary’s significance, and b.) I don’t know if a companion story ever aired on the pubic broadcaster’s TV station(s).
I’m sure in America, land of the free and home of the pundit, the coverage has been inescapable. Every angle, every moment, every opinion about what it meant then, what it means now and what it will mean in another ten years. While some of the journalism is undoubtedly quite good, it has to be just plain exhausting. I’m happy Wolf Blitzer’s mumbled monotone isn’t a part of my life right now, I can tell you that. (Would The Situation Room be better if hosted by The Situation? It’s a dangerous question, but one that remains.)
Also, as of this writing, no warning or instruction has been issued by the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria to Americans living in South Africa, at least to my knowledge. This radio silence is despite the “threats” — both “unconfirmed” and “credible” — being uncovered back home. There are bigger fish to fry here, I suppose. The Embassy is hosting a social event in remembrance of 9/11 in Johannesburg, but no one from this household will attend.
It seems strange not to be wrapped in the swaddling coverage of one of the most significant events in American history, but the feeling is at the same time somewhat Rumsfeldian: I don’t know that I know what I don’t know. How should I be feeling? Without Olbermann or O’Reilly or others telling me how to think and what memories to dredge, the anniversary is poised to feel like, well…like Sunday.
And I guess what I’m saying is that’s OK by me. I don’t want to forget 9/11 — I don’t think any of us could if we tried — but I don’t need to be bombarded by the images, sounds and stories of the events, either. I’m also like that about remembering deceased loved ones. I don’t need to visit a hunk of marble to conjure up a laugh or a cry or a memory of what life was like with that person. That’s just me, though; maybe I’m odd like that.
Besides, when it comes to the legacy of 9/11, we still have plenty of everyday reminders: troops in Afghanistan, troops in Iraq (not really related, but still related), soaring deficits from said unpaid-for troop commitments, plastic trays for shoes and belts at the airport, and so on.
What’s more, like so many American families, ours was also impacted on that day. While we didn’t yet know him, our wonderful brother-in-law was in the World Trade Center and managed to escape. His description of the events, including being offered shelter and care by a complete stranger in the hours after impact, means more to me than any analysis from any talking head.
And, sure, many of the stories on the air and in the paper and on the web right now are also the accounts of survivors and victims, of people whose lives were forever changed or tragically lost. I don’t want to diminish that. Telling the stories, hearing them, is part of our national healing process. I’d just like it if the stories we tell on September 12 actually shared the same sense of national cohesion and we’re-in-it-togetherness. I’d like it if the narrative continued to help our once-again-divided nation find common ground. I’d like it if our leaders and media and, well, all of us learned something from this anniversary — something that would make us all proud to pledge our allegiance, not just to a flag, but to each other.