How do the rest of us honor 9/11?

This Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of 9/11, just in case you’ve been living under a rock and weren’t aware of this fact. For those of us who are all too aware of it, however, we as a nation seem to struggle to figure out how best to respond to this event. That bittersweet slice of poetic justice that was Osama bin Laden’s death came early enough in the summer for citizens to toast the Navy SEALS who brought it about, then go on carping about how the government needs to DO SOMETHING about the economy.

On Slate, retrospectives focused not so much on the event itself as the conspiracy theories and their propagators who continue to believe, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that Bush was somehow smart enough to orchestrate the whole thing for some nefarious political purposes that remain undefined to this day. Landmark Theatres responded by almost putting a reprint of Airplane! in its theaters for midnight showings this weekend, then backing off when HQ realized that the poster featured an airplane tied in knots around a skyscraper. Bad juju, apparently. (Shameless self-promotion: For more of my thoughts on that controversy, listen to my podcast from my radio show on Party 934.)

It’s undeniable the impact this tragedy has had on the country as a whole. Every region has lost soldiers to two costly wars, only one directly linked to hunting down the men responsible, the other a piece of political machination that would make Machiavelli lose faith in humanity. We’ve become paranoid and insular, and some have even hinted that our response to the attacks helped nudge our economy down the toilet.

And yet I understand the ambivalence about how much or what exactly to say about the anniversary itself. While I will never forget where I was when I heard about the attacks–the end of the Intro to Business class I took as a sophomore, where one of my classmates and I wondered aloud who exactly belonged to Grandview High School’s Emergency Response Task Force and what they were going to do about destroyed buildings in New York City–the day seemed not to affect Denver personally. The most said in the Denver Post about the matter was that some officials had put the Colorado National Guard on high alert, fearing that the Qwest building downtown was at a risk. You know, being the tallest building in our landlocked and only semi-strategically important city.

Sure, we were all two or three degrees from someone who had been affected. My father worked for the Veterans’ Administration at the time and happened to talk to an officer who was in the Pentagon during the attacks. The man had vivid flashbacks of the plane hitting the building. Just before it had, he’d been chatting with a colleague over coffee. They turned and parted ways. The officer, of course, had the wind knocked out of him but was otherwise physically fine. But his colleague had gone the wrong way.

Still, it seems fair to say that this day really belongs to longtime residents of New York City and longtime employees at the Pentagon and families of the Flight 93 passengers to set the tempo. They’re the ones who still have to deal with the mental scarring, not just this Sunday, but every day for the rest of their lives. If they want it to be a day of mourning, so be it. But so far, all the reactions I’ve seen have approached the date with a pause for reflection, perhaps even a glimmer of humor, but definitely a sense that life marches on. And so I will carry on mindfully but normally this Sunday and raise a toast on their behalf when Airplane! finally does get shown at the Esquire in November.

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