As I looked at my mobile phone and realised that today was the 11th of September, a distant, yet overpowering memory gripped me. I saw the smouldering flames blazing once again before me, I heard the heartbreaking screams of despair, felt the fear seize my entire self, and smelled the stench that comes with death and destruction. I wondered how many others across the world shared this memory with me today.
I do not even feel the need to specify what I am talking about, because I know you knew the minute I mentioned ‘September 11th’.
If you haven’t caught a glimpse of the calendar in some time, that’s okay, because every newspaper headline, national and international, will remind you, and then you will feel a pang of guilt for ever having forgotten.
I was halfway across the world when it happened. I had never seen the towers, nor have I ever in my life set foot on US territory. Why, then, has this memory excavated its way deep into the inner core of my mind, as it has in so many others’?
This memory is not my own, yet it somehow feels too familiar. It belongs to all of us. The video footages, images, and sounds, made available by the media, would not have it any other way. They made it mine, yours, and the entire world’s.
I am moved by videos of this year’s ceremony, particularly the interviews with the grieving spouses and children, the victims of 9/11 . ‘The 9/11 Children’ they are called, each of which now, having entered adulthood, shares their story and that of their lost loved ones with the rest of the world. With repeated recordings of the fatal news of the day, not to mention, the loving family portraits and tender music playing in the background, it is hard not to give myself over once again, and feel an overwhelming sense of empathy towards the victims, which seem suddenly so close to me.
Death is no longer mere numbers. Death has been given a name, a face, a family, a story.
Then I can’t help but glimpse back at other headlines over the past years and months: ‘Scores dead in Syrian attacks’, ‘More Palestinians dead in Palestine’, ‘Iraq death toll “over one million’’’, ‘Civilian deaths in Afghan War hit record high’. Here, death remains just death. It is detached, commonplace, even; as there is no doubt in our minds that we will encounter another such headline in the papers tomorrow, or the day after. Numeric figures, deprived from their narrative – evoking shock only due to the monumental size of the numbers, which persistently rise by the minute, but never elicit a further, more involved emotional response.
Human life is equal, we are taught, yet the media’s approach suggests otherwise. Some of the dead have been given a voice, while others are forgotten the very next day. Some live on, while others are gone forever.
A tragedy occurred on September 11th, there is no doubt about it. One we should not, and will not forget. But tragedies have not stopped poisoning our societies since, nor were there any lack of them before.
The War on Terror continues, as thousands of others die day after day, nameless and faceless, and we are still caught up in an emotional journey back to the past.
Ten years past, and their stories are still with us, while millions have been swept away by a gust of neglect and forgetfulness, and more still will remain untold.
‘9/11’ has become ours. The songs, the narratives, the repeated images, even the catchiness of the term ‘9/11’ itself. It has marked our history and our calendars, it has made its bed in the depths of our minds. 9/11 is us, we are 9/11.
This memory is not my own, but it will remain with me forever. These 3,000 I will keep, but the millions of others are already fading away.
Image credit – Wikimedia Commons