Today I write this on 12 September 2010, one day after 11 September 2010, and 9 years after 11 September 2001. In the midst of my first year of living in New York City, this date has caused me special occasion to pause and to take note of the nine year anniversary as I get to know the neighbourhoods and residents of this city. While the events of 11 September obviously had a global impact, the people of New York City have a special relationship to this date and they choose to commemorate it in a myriad of ways. This past Saturday witnessed a number of memorial services at churches, firehouses and an official ceremony at Zuccotti Park near the WTC site. There were also many other events across the city including poetry readings and a floating lantern ceremony at the Hudson River put on by New York’s Buddhist community. Many of these ceremonies were inter-faith and all welcoming, a message that may have been overlooked by a media more closely focused on the controversy over the proposed Islamic center blocks away from Ground Zero.
Perhaps the most moving act of commemoration in my mind was the Tribute in Light. For the ninth year in a row two massive beams of blue light, (the largest ever projected from Earth to sky), were shone into the night sky in the place where the twin towers once stood. The project, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, is a silent but powerful symbol that can be seen across the city. While I was aware that the project would be taking place, by the time night fell I had forgotten about the installation until I looked out of the back window of my apartment at 11:30 pm only to be reminded and moved by the image that I was confronted with that was coming from across the river. This simple yet powerful memorial caused me to do what the very best memorials should do; it caused me to pause and to think. My mind wandered over the past nine years as I marvelled at both how much and how little has changed since 2001. In many ways, I couldn’t believe that nine years had passed since the event, the ‘where were you when’ event of my generation. In many ways it felt like so little has changed since that day. While I believe that the events of 9/11 had a profound impact on many individual lives, and for some, brought on personal life changes, for most of us in the United States and Canada life has changed very little. We carry on with our day to day lives, dealing with a little more security checks, but for the most part unfazed. Many of us carry on woefully unaware of the problems of warfare and scarcity that plague so many parts of the world, or how our own government’s policies affect others around the globe. But the fact is that much has changed. Since 9/11 there are two on-going wars that we as private citizens know very little about and do very little to acknowledge. We let the others do the fighting, and we ask very little questions. Our society has also fundamentally changed its discourse. Our world had come to be defined as pre and post 9/11, and these distinctions are clear in our media dialogue that we all live with and have adapted to. We have grown accustomed to news of terror alerts and terror cells, and we hardly flinch anymore when Islam-a-phobic rhetoric is given equal weight in the debate. If these two beams of light only serve to make us remember those who died then that is enough. But if they also serve to make us reflect on how our world has changed, and give us cause to pause and ask questions of the world we inhabit now, nine years later, then they have also enlightened.