The world after 9/11

It’s already started, an international week of post-traumatic stress, the re-living over and over again of the tragedy that was 9-11. You can’t turn on the television, you can’t pick up a newspaper without a rehashing of the day’s events, that second day that will live in infamy, the day when the United States lost not just its innocence but its spirit.

The day changed everything. It set that tone.

Everybody for themselves.

Why not?

We’re going to die anyway.

It changed the trajectory of my children’s lives. They were all teenagers when the planes flew into the World Trade Centre. They all got out of school that day and came home, breathless, trying to figure out what it all meant. Each recent generation has at least of those memories: Pearl Harbour, the Bay of Pigs, The Kennedy Assassination, Three Mile Island when the world was brought to the brink by the unthinkable.

But this one seemed different, perhaps because our enemy was unknown to us; our enemy had yet to grow an identity, a face.

After 9-11, people asked themselves: what’s the use? My kids all started acting out, cutting school, smoking and drinking. It took several years for them to get back on track after witnessing such a traumatic event.

The events of 9/11 affected me profoundly. I took decisive actions in my life. I ditched a house — literally giving the keys back to the bank — and dumped what debt I had. I developed panic disorder and couldn’t work outside my own home. I stopped flying. I stopped caring about the future and started thinking about how best to get through the day.

 It’s only in recent years that I’ve begun to lift my head up, to hope for a better life.

9/11 did that to me and other people. Relationships ended. Banks went under. The rules changed. Instead of a floor, we had a trap door which would open unexpectedly. Out of 9/11 came an almost Dickensian world of pettiness and thievery; it set the tone for Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, for Bernie Madoff.

Even here in Canada, where we always seem to dodge the big bullets, we lost our innocence. Thoughtful discourse disintegrated into pettiness, whole political parties disintegrated over the loss of hope. Decency turned to cool politeness.

In the United States, people turned to false idols for hope — Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama — but quickly saw their dreams dashed as they realized there was no saviour. If the economy didn’t get ’em, the levees would break, the water would rise and they would have to start over again. The America of John Steinbeck became the America of Cormac McCarthy, a bleak world, sketched dark grey.

The big bad guys finally got caught in time for the 10th Anniversary. Saddam was hanged, Bin Laden was shot but not soon enough. The seeds of home-grown terrorism had already been planted, like pods in a Roger Corman movie.

They now live among us.

I wish I could say I have hope for our future. I still believe in the goodness of people, but only on a one-on-one basis. Learn to love individuals, not the collective. Keep your children close and keep your head down. Be more resourceful and more skeptical of those carrying a briefcase of solutions.

The briefcase might have a bomb in it.

Still, it’s a better world. People have more clarity. They are not as attracted to shiny objects. They have a better sense of what’s important.

I will mark 9/11 as I always do, away from crowds, sitting in my home, watching it all play over and over again on the television.

It’s a memory to keep fresh.

Our existence depends upon it.


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