In July I was walking along the stunning waterfront of Lake Maggiore in Stresa, Italy, with some Californians, when a piece of sculpture caught my eye because it was an American flag running vertically. We went over to look at it, and the plaque said that it was a 9/11 memorial, dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attack from the townspeople of Stresa. When we looked again, we could see that the stripes were actually the twin towers. It was a simple, brilliant design. As we took pictures, I found myself weeping from the emotional generosity of what the piece stood for: that these Northern Italians had taken the time and money and energy to express their heartfelt commiseration with a city far from their own home because of the enormity of that obscene day.
The NY Times recently had an unnecessary article “reporting” 9/11 memorial fatigue. But I don’t think the heaviness surrounding this anniversary is about the day or the events. I think it’s the relentless disarray of our foreign policy, and the almost daily deaths of our young soldiers over a war we can’t define and therefore can’t win. That’s the fatigue. And some days, it feels overwhelming.
The deepest tribute to our neighbors’ violent deaths is in our aching hearts, as corny as that sounds, because it’s the only place we can comprehend the magnitude of loss, and all the death on foreign soil since then.
But there is a need for community and memory. In my own hometown, Massapequa Park, someone thought of a very appropriate combination of the two: the Boy Scouts put a small flag for every victim, by name, on the lawn of the Village Hall. The sea of stars and stripes is striking, but more than that, kids who were infants six years ago are learning what happened on 9/11 in a tangible way.
For adults, there are alternatives to the main ceremony at Ground Zero. One is Mygooddeed.org. It’s similar to a movement to add dimension to Martin Luther King Day. You could decide any day of the year to volunteer or donate blood or help someone, but if you haven’t actually done any of those things, let 9/11 kick you into gear.
Another is the September Concert Foundation. They are taking the very long view, that 100 years from now September 11 will be seen as a day of live music performance for peace. For New Yorkers there are some great concerts planned all over the city, especially in midtown. But it’s a global effort. See what’s happening by you.
On the Sunday following 9/11, the NY Times printed a flag on its back page. I put that flag on my door. I do wonder when I will take it down, but I’m sure it shouldn't be now.