Sorry for the dark post on a Monday.
As you know, yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Fifteen years later, it’s still such an awful day. It feels like yesterday, doesn’t it? Even after all this time it’s hard to believe it happened.
I have no connection to 9/11 in that I don’t know any of the people who were lost. I was 16 years old, sitting in my high school classroom in Eastern Kentucky. My parents pulled us all out of school that day. If the world was ending (as many thought), we were going to go out together.
I read and watched a lot of the coverage yesterday. It’s hard to look away, isn’t it? I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget that many of the first responders and those who helped clear the wreckage are dying because of the toxic fumes. I don’t want to forget those who have given their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. I don’t want to forget that 40% of those lost at the World Trade Center have not been identified. It’s a reminder that, in spite of the dark days, how grateful I am to live in this country. It’s a reminder that I’m alive. We are here. We get to experience the glory of the first crisp days of fall. Of sweet summer. The first snow. Birthdays and holidays and Sunday mornings.
Yesterday I watched a video of a 9/11 widow discussing being on the phone with her husband as the tower collapsed. She said she wanted to crawl through the phone lines so she could die with him. And she didn’t want the day to end – as long as it continued, it was another day that they were on this earth together. I was overcome.
And yet I can’t help but feel I’m using their grief as my entertainment. It goes beyond 9/11. I devoured shows about the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman murders earlier this year. We’re now watching programs about the murder of JonBenet’ Ramsey and just finished the second season of Narcos. It’s our entertainment: reliving the last minutes and gruesome murders of others. Pablo Escobar blew up a fucking plane killing 110 innocent people, and here I am, with my popcorn in hand, quickly finishing 10 episodes.
What brought me to this realization? It was reading about the 9/11 Museum. I’m conflicted. It was a moment in history that we never want to forget. We want to remember the first responders and the passengers on the planes and the people who were just living their lives and sitting in their offices, doing their jobs. We want to remember the heroes and the resilience of the city and the country. But do we have to commemorate these horrific events with a gift shop? I think the victims and the families and those still suffering and those who have fought in the corresponding wars deserve better. They deserve better than overpriced souvenirs. They deserve better than Walmart commemorating the anniversary with sales on soda. They deserve much better than a garbage mattress company making a disgusting and ill-advised commercial about their “9/11 sale.”
And then there’s part of me that feels terrible for feeling this way. Isn’t that the exact freedom the terrorists were fighting against? Our freedom to visit a museum if that’s how we need to grieve? Freedom to buy a blanket that says “God Bless America” or a cutting board in the shape of the United States? Freedom to entertain ourselves however we please?
But then the other part of me wonders this: can you imagine if we had a museum and gift shop dedicated to other national tragedies? A museum commemorating Newtown? San Bernardino? The Boston Marathon bombing? The Pulse Nightclub shootings?
I can obviously not speak for the victims or their families. But I can’t fathom having a museum or television show dedicated to the worst day of my life. I can’t imagine having to watch my family die on television over and over and over again. What if this were your life? A museum dedicated to the death of your spouse or parent or child? Maybe a museum dedicated to the day your marriage fell apart, divorce papers on full display? A show dedicated to the day that you found out you had cancer or couldn’t have children? A moment in time replayed for everyone to see forever.
I know we will always have a macabre fascination with tragedy, particularly with the advancement of social media. We can watch it all unfold in real time. We wonder what the plane passengers thought as the World Trade Center got closer and closer. We wonder how these heroes could run into a burning building. We wonder how parents go on with their lives after their babies were murdered at school. We wonder want went through the minds of those hiding in a club bathroom while they were out celebrating on a Saturday night. We want to understand. We want to grasp. Ultimately we want to help. But is creating a museum or a gift shop or a show on Netflix a form of help? Or is it entertainment for the rest of us?
What are your thoughts on this?