During a recent trip to New York, I walked past a firehouse. It was a Friday night, and the building stuck out amidst the brightly lit sea of stores, restaurants and crowded sidewalks. On the garage door were the names of the firemen from that firehouse who died during the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. I’d visited the city a handful of times since 2001 but somehow never walked past a firehouse. I stopped and glanced at the memorial. Then, I looked around. Nobody else was looking at it. "They see memorials like this all the time," I said to myself. "They’re used to them, I guess. They’ve moved on." A few moments later, I moved on down the sidewalk.
It’s vital for people to find a way to move on with their lives after tragedy. It’s healthy. It’s healthy for those who were close to those who died on 9/11. It’s healthy for the people of New York. It’s healthy for the people of this nation. Although I hope we "never forget" (as the now-perennial rallying cry begs) the events of that horrific day, how great would it be if those horrific events could spur this nation to become better and stronger? How great would it be if we could finally overcome that legacy of tragedy?
I can understand if the sight of a 9/11 memorial has become all too commonplace for the New Yorkers walking past me on the sidewalk that night. They walk past memorials every day. Maybe they have finally picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and moved on defiantly with their lives. Maybe the constant reminders have forced them to. But what about the rest of us?
Twelve years ago, mass murder spurred by mass hatred forever altered the course of our nation. It’s difficult to admit that truth. It’s beyond infuriating to think that "the terrorists will have won" if we do. But hindsight and distance says that, ultimately, they did win. They accomplished their objective. They wanted us to be ashamed of who we are as a nation and afraid to be ourselves. They wanted us to turn on each other. And all of those things have come to pass.
In the days after 9/11, this country was more unified than I’ve ever seen it. We cared for each other, cheered for each other and rallied together when our leaders pledged to find and punish those responsible. We were going to move forward. We weren’t going to let evil change us. A climate of resolve permeated the nation for weeks and months. But then, a series of questionable decisions by those same leaders sparked the dissolution of our unity, and our collective optimism unraveled. And it continues to unravel to this day.
Advancing technologies have allowed us to share information with virtually anyone at anytime from anywhere, but, somehow, our ability to actually communicate with each other is eroding.
The speed in which we are willing to hate each other, as well as the things we are willing to hate each other for and the ways we’ve found to express that hate, have increased exponentially.
Hundreds of brave men and women selflessly died while giving all they had to save others on 9/11, but these days, more and more of us would rather sit back selfishly and let others solve our problems for us. Instead of doing everything we can to seek and preserve our individual and collective freedoms, we are more and more willing to concede that others have better ideas about how we should live our lives—and to hand over control to them.
When will it end? Can we rally again? What are we unified about these days? The answers to these questions will tell a lot about where we’re headed as a nation.
Twelve years later, who are we? What are we? Who and what do we want to be? If anybody has any idea, please let me know.
Bill Colrus writes about (in no particular order) local news, culture, music and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or reach him at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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