It’s the 9th anniversary of 9/11.
I still remember that day, it affected me deeply. I will never forget the airplanes, and the collapsing twin towers.
But, there is something that bugs me about 9/11.
For all of the severity, and tragedy of the attack on the World Trade Center, the whole “remember 9/11” thing is becoming a pop-culture cliche.
People post Facebook and MySpace statuses about “remember 9/11” and “Never Forget” or “Our Freedom Is Precious”… and I can’t help but wonder if they are posted because it’s the way the feel, or if they are posted because someone feels they have to… Sometimes, I wonder if some people even have a clue about what the freedom that they hold so precious really means?
The other thing that bugs me about the whole “9/11 Memorial” industry regards the FDNY Firefighters, NYPD officers, and Port Authority officers that perished in the towers. On 9/11 the fire service in this country was profoundly affected by the loss of so many brothers in one day. And I do use the term “brothers” because firemen develop that sort of bond. It was a profound loss that affected firefighters across the country, and in the fire service that loss is still felt. Fire engines across the country have memorials to the FDNY firefighters painted on their engines, or as small window stickers, or decals on the sides, and in many cases, large American flags flying from the back step of the vehicle. They will most likely remain there for years. Even more, many fire departments across the country have renumbered a piece of apparatus with the number “911” either permanently or symbolically.
This is where I tread upon touchy ground: As a past member of the fire service, and as someone who grew up in and around a fire house where my father was Fire Chief, I understand how firefighters grieve, how they hold up those lost in the line of duty, and go to great pains to remember those who gave their lives saving others. It’s a solemn thing to remember those men, and it is a deeply felt tradition in the fire service.
That being said, I understand the desire of those outside of the fire service, law enforcemnt, and public safety in general to remember the members of the FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority who died. The emphasis, however, appears to be on the fire fighters, because of the place they hold in American society. It’s the way they are remembered that, in my opinion, is fast becoming a pop culture cliche. After 9/11, stickers, T-shirts, and other paraphernalia emblazoned with “We will never forget” and “Gone but not forgotten” in an attempt to memorialize those who died, the loss of two iconic buildings and the over three thousand civilians who died were everywhere, it’s as if a cottage industry popped up overnight. It all seems so cheap, in my eyes. T-shirts? Give me a break. I have never said anything about this in the past, but as we near the 10th Anniversary of the assault on this country, it seems the attempts at memorials are getting more maudlin, more plastic, and frankly more “pop-culture” than the serious, solemn event that it is.
With the loss of 343 firefighters on that fateful day the public in this country has become more conscious than ever of the sacrifices that our firefighters and police officers make for us every day, and that has translated to an “over the top” mourning, in my opinion, every time a Line of Duty Death is reported in the news. Just recently, the Chicago Fire Department lost one of their own, while fighting a fire in a restaurant. The next day on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, people were posting such things as “God needed another hero Chicago Firefighter (name here) rest in peace” or “Another hero has passed” and other such things. The postings were maudlin, and, to be quite frank, silly. I get the need to mourn, to show support for the men and women who come to our aid when we need them, but it is getting to the point of cliche, and that takes away from the loss, the solemness of the situation, and, really, intrudes on the members of the fire service, and their need to mourn, their way. Folks, if you don’t understand the fire service, have never been a part of it, please, dispense with the “look at me, I’m part of this too” type of memorialization. If you want to mourn the loss of one of our bravest, say a prayer, observe a moment of silence, or something similar. If you are near where the funeral goes by, stand in silence, and say a prayer for the fallen, and for those who will continue to carry on. Fly a flag, plant a flower, plant a tree, commission a plaque, a piece of sidewalk, a park, or a street in their name, because those types of memorials have meaning, but please, dispense with the t-shirts, bumper stickers, and all other such cliched nonsense. To be honest, it really looks bad, when some drunken slob is in a bar, stumbling about with a “FDNY We will never forget” t-shirt, it looks tacky, and in my opinion is disrespectful. The t-shirt that I dislike the most, is one that has the standard memorial phrase on the back, and a white badge on the front, over the left chest, with a black band through it, and “FDNY 9/11/2001” underneath. The black band over the badge is really something both law enforcement, and fire service folks do to show they have lost someone from their department. That gesture, is one of the ways firefighters and cops mourn, it has a powerful meaning to those who wear the uniform, it is a reminder as well, of why we did, and still do the job, and the sacrifice, that those of us who have worn, and still wear the uniform, and our families understand. It’s not something that should be plastered on a t-shirt, and sold. It cheapens it, and takes away the meaning.
I understand everyone’s desire to remember that fateful day, and show their support, and how if affected them. I choose not to wear those items, because I firmly believe they have no place. They have turned a national tragedy, a deadly act of aggression into a piece of pop culture, and that is wrong.
Like I said, if you want to memorialize all of those who have given their lives to protect and serve their fellow man, then raise a flag, plant a tree, or a garden in their memory, do something lasting, and something that will make an impression, and will be there for future generations to see. Not some t-shirt that will fade, wear out, and become full of holes after too many washings. It wasn’t a concert, or event, or some other piece of culture, It was a barbaric, horrific act of aggression against a people, a country, a way of life, and over 3,000 people died simply because they were the targets of evil men, who wished to hurt us, who desire to destroy our way of life.
Never forget those who died
Work so it doesn’t happen again.
Do something so it is never forgotten.
Pray for those who wish to harm us, and pray for those who stand ready to come to our aid, in our time of need. They all wear a uniform, some of them drive police cars, some drive fire trucks, and still others drive Hummvees, and armored vehicles. But, they all stand ready to protect and to serve, and to defend.
Don’t forget them. Support them, remember them, and honor them in a tangible, meaningful way.
A t-shirt doesn’t do it.