11 September 2006



Sing a Sad Song
In a lonely place
And try to put a word in for me...

God, I hate this day.

Five years later and it's not any better. It should be. It should never have been as bad as it was. I don't know anyone that died on September 11th. I've been to New York City fewer times than I can count on two hands. I never saw Ground Zero. I never drove past the Pentagon. I never bothered to trek the hour and a half from Harrisburg to Shanksville. All I know, all I've got, is what I've seen on TV and read secondhand. I don't have any real right to feel the emotional sag that I feel today. Especially since the people that
really lost something...really lost something.

I feel like a charlatan griever. Like a mourning opportunist. The tourist that takes pictures and tells people he's from there. But I guess...I guess at least I feel.

Maybe you've felt it too, these last five years, on this day that hits just as Summer breaks down. The change of seasons. Sailboat to driftwood. It's constant and it's irrevocable; we all know driftwood can't turn back into a sailboat.

The day always seems sunny, but nothing seems to shine. Walking to the corner store takes a little more effort. The birds sound less like the Disney characters we knew as kids and more like a very tangible, feather-based annoyance. You feel the weight in your shoulders. In your hands. In your stomach.

Oh sure, it's all psychological. We know that. The sun's pumping out UV rays at the same frequency as always. The pigeons never really sounded that chipper to begin with. Does it really make it any better knowing that? Help to gloss up a dull surface? Make the tension more palatable because it's just your mind working overtime on you? Maybe. Maybe it does. Better that than the pull of the voices from a few thousand lost lives floating in a nameless void.

But that's melodrama. That's hyperbole.

They're not calling me.

But if they did - if they could, if they would, if they might - what would they say?

A few years back I caught the film 9/11; I think they show it every year now. Two French documentarians - brothers - were following a rookie firefighter around New York City for a few months. They wanted to show a boy turning into a man in a harsh environment. They just happened to be filming on 11 September 2001. Long story short, one brother - onsite minutes after the attacks with FDNY - ran blindly as Tower Two collapsed. He eventually made it out into the street and barely escaped as One was falling. As he was pushed to the ground and covered by a firefighter who was trying to protect him, he had just three thoughts. One was that his brother was probably dead. Another was that he was about to join him. The last one I'll never forget as long as I live.

"I thought, 'If we make it out of this alive,'" he said, "'I'm going to be a better brother.'"

I always remember those words. I always forget the sentiment. On a day where a few complicit people killed more than a few innocent people, the ramifications for those directly affected have been profound. For myself...I've probably become more cynical. More aware of the world around me. A little jaded. A little weepy one extra day a year. But if I've
learned anything...it's that I've learned nothing.

Too often when we experience loss we dwell on the negation rather than the affirmation. We think about what wasn't and not what was. What could have been and not what we'd made of it. But the cardinal sin to which we all suffer? We focus on what's no longer there rather than what's sitting right in front of us. It's gone. It's over. But we neglect to remember what was so great about it when it wasn't.

That which is granted shall be taken for granted. It's human nature.

Those people are gone. Loved ones lost, children outlived by parents, children outliving parents they'll never know. They're not coming back, and every year on this day we'll be reminded of that. So do we honor that notion by being defeatist? By holing up and closing off? Is flying a polyester flag as a lone act of patriotism and as a cover for an underlying depression, anger and fear the only answer that we can offer?

We should all do better. We have the potential. And we owe it to the people who had theirs revoked without a say in the matter.

Smile at a stranger. Lend someone five bucks and don't worry if you ever see it again. Sing in the shower. Make your best friend laugh. Make yourself laugh. Help an old lady across the street. Buy your boss lunch. Pet the dogs in the park. Throw a penny over your shoulder into a fountain. Throw yourself into a fountain. Eat ice cream until your head hurts. Thank the guy at the counter - and mean it. Let one more person merge on the highway. Cry at a movie. Make a stupid face at a kid in a stroller. Hold someone's hand when you'd rather slap it away. Call someone you love. Tell them you love them. Listen to them say it back.

Walk next to someone so they don't have to walk alone.

Be better at feeling. Take it all in, kids. You've got one token and it's good for a big, wistful, visceral round on a track. It's bumpy. The best tracks have a few bumps in them. Try to enjoy it.

Driftwood can't un-putrify. It can't get stronger. It can't regenerate and build itself back into a sailboat. But that doesn't really even matter, does it? Human beings aren't driftwood. We might break down, but we can snap back. And we make for vessels that are much better than sailboats.

I hate this day. I hated it last year, I hate it this year, and I'll hate it next year. But better days are coming, just as they've come before. The sun will shine and the birds will sing and all other timeless, affected cliches will come to fruition. I'm moving towards them. You should too.

C'mon. I'll walk with you.