11 September 2002

It was the girl in the elevator that finally did me in.

Let me explain something about myself before I clarify that statement.

I don't like overt displays of jingoistic nationalism. I have no delusions about America's great committment to democracy; I know it's about protecting our financial interests. I am not the type to deck myself out in red, white and blue on a national day of mourning, because I do not think it is at all appropriate to wave the flag and yell about how great we are when 3000 people are dead.

I'm also not one to waste time wailing and moaning about loss, especially when it doesn't affect me or my loved ones personally. I'm too Southern, or something, to approve of gratuitous public displays of grief. I do not cry in public, ever, at all. See, the great American pasttime is public drama, packaged by the media for our short-attention-span society, and passed off as real emotion. It's the modern equivalent of bread and circuses, of the gladiatorial games, and it is disgusting. Private agony has become public spectacle. I hate it from the depths of my soul. It is undignified (yeah, who knew I'd care about dignity), it is wretched, it is sickening, and it is pathetic.

I have been disgusted with life in general pretty much all day. This sort of thing brings out the best and the worst in people, and it has never more obvious than today. The media is having convulsive orgasms over the 9/11 anniversary. This morning on the radio, there were people calling in and bawling their heads off on the air, practically in hysterics. Did any of them lose people in the attacks? No. But we're Americans, and we have to make a spectacle of our grieving, like we do everything else. We're already really good at being victims; now we have a golden ticket to Victimhood.

I have found that the people making the most noise on this day are not the dead people's families (with a few notable exceptions). For the most part, they're people who have nothing to do with New York or Washington DC, except they're located within the same country. They're the ones waving the flag and shouting the loudest; they're the ones sticking flags on the antennae of their gas-guzzling SUVs, the ones who thirteen months ago would dismiss that sort of overt patriotism as vaguely redneck-ish and embarrassing. They pay forty bucks for a WTC t-shirt and DVD set from Wal-Mart, and proclaim proudly their belief in God, America, and bombing the shit out of people with brown skin. Bush declared today a holiday: Patriot Day. Hallmark has a card for the occasion. There were FIREWORKS going off at the city park tonight. Fucking FIREWORKS. Explain THAT to me. What exactly are we celebrating, here? God, I hate people.

Mourning, yes, I understand that. As an American citizen, I felt the attacks too. We were all affected because this hit so close to home. We all have to commemorate the occasion in a way that makes sense to us and allows us to rebuild our sense of identity as a nation. What I do not understand is wallowing in this anniversary like a pig in shit, making as much of a mess as possible. As a nation, we like to wring as much melodrama out of situations as we possibly can, complete with commemorative T-shirts, beer holders, and baseball caps. It's one of the ugliest things about human nature: we profit from each others' pain, and there's plenty of that going on (fuck you, Hallmark). It's shameful and it's disrespectful to the dead.

So when our Fine Institute of Higher Learning announced it would be holding a memorial service at the flagpole today, I decided I would attend out of respect for the dead, and not to wail and beat my chest in public. I did not wear red, white and blue. I wore my regular clothes, just like a year ago, with the addition of a black armband. (Which is a fine old tradition that has largely been lost, I might add.) I firmly believe that today is a day for paying respect to those we have lost, not a day to beat the drums of war. (I am in the minority, I'm pretty sure.) I looked at all the memorial Web sites. I read blogs and journals. I read the stories of some of the victims. I tried to put myself in an appropriate state of mind to attend a remembrance service.

I was determined I was NOT going to cry. Let other people bawl and carry on; I was not going to cry. And indeed, I did not.

Until the fucking elevator.

This kid and her mom got on at my floor to ride down to the lobby. The girl could not have been more than sixteen. She was humming to herself, looking rather cheerful, as teenage girls do when they're not on the downswing of some mood. We rode in silence for a minute, then the girl asked me, "So, like, what's with the black armband?"

I'm not a rude person, really, at least not to complete strangers. I blinked at her. Then I blinked some more, unsure what to say that wouldn't be completely asshole-ish of me. Finally I said, "What day is it?"

"... Oh, that!"

"Yeah. That."

"Oh yeah, okay, that World Trade Center thing..."

By this time the elevator doors had opened and I stormed off the elevator, flinging back over my shoulder, "You been under a rock or asleep for the last goddamn year? What the hell do you THINK it's for, you stupid child?"

And the tears came at last. Dammit all.