September 11, 2004: Crossfire
: I am tired of living in the crossfire.
Right now, I am at the World Trade Center. Outside, parents and grandparents who lost children at on 9/11 — Mayor Bloomberg says our language has no word to label their loss — are reading the names of the dead.
And I am angry.
Every year, I return to the site to remember and pay tribute. I retrace my steps that day, grateful to survive. I stand and listen to the litany of innocence and tragedy. And I don’t know what emotion is going to take me over until I am here. Two years ago, it was reverence. Last year, I said that sorrow and anger fought and sorrow won.
This year, anger wins.
I am angry to be living in the crossfire, angry to be living between the fringes.
I am angry to hear the names of 2,727 who did absolutely nothing to deserve death … except that they were in America. They were caught in the crossfire of a war that wasn’t theirs. They were murdered just for the sake of it by the fascist fringe.
And I am angry at the same time that the political fringes in America are taking over this election. I’m mad because they are distracting us from the real enemy, the one who struck that day, the one who killed those 2,727 whose names are being read right now, the one who turned America into his battleground; they are making us forget the real war. I’m mad because they are distracting us from the real work we should be about in this democracy. I’m mad because they are turning into America into their battleground, too.
I’m mad because I’m sick of being surrounded by mad people.
Insert irony here.
: This is all about being American and to me, being an American means living in the middle, finding the mainstream, melting into equality, finding the consensus. Being an American means tolerating but not living on the fringes.
I am the drippings from the melting pot. I’m a mix of so many unknown ethnicities that I have no ethnicity. I’m a little bit of everybody. I am everyman. I am American.
I am pathetically typical: One of two children, father of two children, raised in the ‘burbs, living in the ‘burbs, politically sitting in the middle leaning this way on this issue and that way on that issue and averaging out like everything else in my life, back to the middle.
I love the middle, the center, the mainstream, the masses. It’s not just how I live, it’s how I think. It’s why I love this medium of ours, citizens’ media, that is the sum of its limitless parts, the consensus of the whole. It’s why I defended the taste of the American people and what they watched on TV when I was a critic. It’s where I’m most comfortable: America, the middle.
We were attacked that day because we are America, the middle. But it only made me more American, more determined to recapture what makes us American, to defend the middle and not be overtaken by the fringes.
: But I have to admit some hypocritical history. I was a reporter. Well, I still am. I’m reporting in my strange way right now. And I reported that day. When I came out of the World Trade Center and saw it burning, I should have run the hell away from here. At 9:03 this morning, I heard the bells marking the second jet’s attack and I stood not 20 feet from where I write this and felt the heat of it and ran into the window I’m staring at now to get away from the debris. I should have run then. But I didn’t. I stayed. I’m a reporter. I reported. Damned near killed me for no good reason. I hope I wouldn’t think of doing that again. I hope I’ve learned a lesson.
But I stand here and watch reporters and photographers try to leach on the life and emotions of the people who have come here. Ahead of me this morning was a man with his wife and daughter comforting him. I don’t know why. I don’t want to know why. I moved away, feeling as if I was invading his life. But I saw news photographers coming up behind because it made a great picture: sorrow at the fence, under a gigantic American flag and a sign that said, “We will not forget.” They turned him into news. I felt a little ashamed.
And I watch reporters play to the fringes in this election, digging up mud, giving attention to others who do, and slinging with the best of them. They’re not paying attention to the middle, to America. They’re egging on the fringers. I feel ashamed of that.
Maybe I did, indeed, change on September 11. Maybe it took me a few years to recongize it but I see what’s wrong with playing to and promoting the fringes and exploiting rather than serving the people. I hope I’m learning that lesson, too.
: So for me, today is about recapturing the middle, recapturing America and my Americanism, recapturing life and civility and stealing it all away from the fringes that would rob us of it. I’m tired of living in the crossfire. I’m tired of living between the fringes. I’m tired of listening to mad people. I’m tired of being angry.
: I’m going back outside now. I’ll listen to more of the names and look at the plaques of names (replaced yesterday afternoon with the latest list on them). I’ll listen to the words of parents and grandparents, grateful that I neither feel nor caused their pain because of that day. I’ll leave them to their grief and tribute. And I’ll take the PATH train back that I took here that morning and get home before my kids return from the orthodontist’s — how typically American can you get? — and play outside under the warm, bright September 11 sun.
: POSTSCRIPTS: As I walked back to the PATH station, I saw a crowd with flashes and boom mikes and cameras. I figured it might the be the mayor or the governor. No, it was a nutjob. Earlier in the morning, I’d seen a few nutjobs standing together with a banner that said “Bush Regime Engineered 9/11” and similar looney signs. There were only a handful of them. I used my news judgment and better judgment and walked away from them and didn’t tell you about them; they don’t deserve the attention. But here was a gaggle of press paying attention to the fringe. As if I needed more evidence.
: LINKS: Joe Katzman has a great roundup of great posts on the event. Glenn Reynolds has more. I couldn’t link to his post before; he had the images I dread most, large, on his page; they’re gone now.