Grappling With Our Sept. 11 Grief

On Sunday, there was one phrase that dominated headlines, Facebook statuses and handmade signs hung in windows across New York City, the state and the country: never forget. Even a decade later, it is hard to imagine that anyone won’t remember where they were on that clear September morning when they heard the first of two hijacked airplanes slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. But we must also never forget that one ugly feeling which motivated terrorists to take the lives of thousands of others – the similar emotion that sometimes we, as Americans, still direct at people of different cultures in spite of what we should have learned on Sept. 11, 2001.


The al-Qaida hijackers were a hateful group of people. Articles and bloggers cite that these people hated Americans for a slew of reasons: the nation’s support of an Israeli nation, the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, sanctions made in Iraq and so on and so forth. What they did was malicious and wrong, and no decent human being can justify their slaughter of thousands.

Has our nation proven to be upstanding all of the time, though?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have engaged in multiple wars or “conflicts” and “operations,” as the invisible hand of public relations calls them to somehow soften the ideas about what the military is doing in the minds of the American people. But make no mistake: the deaths of scores of innocent civilians in the Middle East and elsewhere were the result of war, a war on a different way of life than good old fashioned American democracy.

Each year when we come upon the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many say that we should embrace “the way we were” the week after the attacks. We at The New Paltz Oracle feel that is only partially true. We feel that we should not let our sadness become bitterness in the way it did for some wondering why their aunt or their neighbor or their friend was taken from them unjustly.

We understand that everyone grieves in different ways: some of us attend memorials each year on 9/11, some of us pray and some of us don’t want to be reminded of the attacks at all. That being said, it is only natural that those of us who lost loved ones feel hurt and frustrated when thinking about 9/11. Things were taken from us – people were taken from us.

Weren’t many of us calling for retaliation at that time? Didn’t headlines with the word “bastard” run on the front page of newspapers around the country in reference to the supposed mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden? Didn’t some cheer when the bombs began to fall in Afghanistan a few weeks later, hoping that we would “get them back” for “what they did?”

We saw this kind of upsetting behavior at SUNY New Paltz a few short months ago. When it was been announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed, students cheered on quads and concourses across campus. Some even set off fireworks…to celebrate a death. Osama bin Laden was a terrorist, a killer and a horrible person – but taking one life for the sake of another is wrong. There is a reason that in this great country, we have a justice system and do not operate under the “eye for an eye” ethic.

When people let grief become anger, it controls them, consumes them and can cause them to say hateful things or act in a hurtful way. During this dark time of year, we urge you to not let that grief twist and turn into an ugly feeling that won’t ease your pain anyway.

There are better ways to make peace with an event with consequences that we as New Yorkers need to live with everyday. Attending beautiful ceremonies like the flag planting hosted by our college is just one of them. We applaud SUNY New Paltz officials for bringing together members diverse members of our community. Those in attendance came from different places, different families and different lifestyles, but they all shared similar feelings.

One was indeed sadness. Some may have shared understandable frustration. But most importantly, as shown by their willingness to come together and support one another on this dreadful day, those in attendance at the memorial shared a desire to heal. Healing is what we should be focusing on in the second and third and all of the decades after Sept. 11, 2001.

So yes, we should embrace “the way we were” after 9/11. We should embrace the urge we had to comfort the grieving, to come together and to find peace.