Like most Americans, I can instantly recall what I was doing, thinking and feeling on September 11, 2001. Within a year I was working for the national news media in a New York City still processing the attack, and the ongoing military response to that day has been at the center of my brother’s, brother-in-law’s and friends’ time in the service. It’s been a divisive decade for the United States, and we’re entering the 2010s arguing about how to reverse the demoralizing political and economic damage — much of it self-inflicted — that we still face today.
That ongoing trauma sparks two emotional reactions in our culture: reactive anger at all that’s happened and all the negativity we’ve had to endure, and grief for the trauma itself. Even at the early stages of the anniversary, these two emotions are guiding how we look back. Full-throated political commentary is plentiful about the events subsequent to Sept. 11th (Politico, Hitchens in Slate), but remembrances of the day itself are muted and emotional in a way that’s probably the only possible theme (NBC New York, the upcoming TIME special). It’s a delicate balancing act when approaching something visceral for all of us, and it’s what will guide this week online.
I was 21 on Sept. 11th, and my own past decade featured the myriad ups and downs that that time in life represents. As much negative emotion as Sept. 11th and the American experience since then has brought, and even with some of the tougher things that occurred in my own life in that time, there have been so many positive things that coincided. Humans can never eliminate the sadness that’s part of life and existence, and this commemoration is a powerful reminder of that. But I’m also quietly thankful that those positive things have still occurred despite the wider circumstances, and that keeps me going.