Perkins’ letter suggests 9/11 memorials too much

Linda Perkins

I was sitting in my office at Skidmore College in upstate N.Y., three hours north of the city just a week or so after the semester started.   At least 2/3 to 3/4 of the enrollment was from the city.  I had a small TV and turned it on in my office shortly after receiving an e-mail that a plane had hit the tower.  My office was packed as we watched the second plane hit.  My student workers were both from the city and they just stared at the TV with horrified and terrified looks on their faces.  They tried to get through to their loved ones with their cell phones but every line going into the city was jammed, and it was impossible to get through.  Most of the students and many employees, myself included, either had family or knew somebody who worked in or near the towers. The school set up big TVs in the student center right away and contacted the offices so we could spread the word. Almost immediately the place was packed with students sitting, almost comatose, while staring at the screens.  Many were crying but other than the sound of the TV there was dead silence. Many students just dropped what they were doing and left for home not knowing what they would find.  Phone service was jammed and everywhere you looked there were signs of shock.  A quarter of the students were brand new freshmen who, a week before, had been dropped off by their parents.  All of a sudden many of them were orphans.  How do you touch that grief?  All of us played the role of grief counselor to some degree for the next few weeks.  We prayed with those who wanted to pray, we held those who could only cry. Many, including myself, did this while we waited for news of our own friends and family.  Most students returned within a week or two but some didn’t.

That being said, I don’t need any memorial services, Facebook apps, TV specials, media events or anything else to “help” me remember that time or the people impacted by it. Now this year there is a new media gem added to the circus it has become.  The flag that is now known as the 9-11 or Ground Zero flag has been touring the country being desecrated by having people who have absolutely no clue what those close to it are feeling, sewing a few stitches in it.  Mend it?  Help people heal?  I think not!  That flag WAS a national treasure that should have been respected as such.  But no, it will never hold the same meaning.  It will never again be the flag that was taken from a mass murder site and held in reverence as a memorial.  It is changed.  It has been changed because somebody saw a way to involve the media and wring out a few more meaningless emotions from people who think they know how we should feel or what we should want.  They are wrong.  They can’t know how we feel any more than those who did not ride out the Joplin tornado [know] how those who did feel.  Well meaning?  Some, yes, but it does not change the ingrained sorrow that we live with.  

I don’t need any memorial services to help me remember that time.  The memory is always there.  I don’t need reminders of any kind that try to wring a public display of emotion out of me.  The memory never leaves.  The emotion is always raw.  What really pisses me off, and we have all seen it first hand, are the people who go laughing and carefree into a memorial situation and immediately turn somber till the service is over, then leave like nothing ever happened.  It all seems like a big joke, a few minutes to get out of class or work.  Do these people have so little emotion that they need something to wring one out of them?  Any excuse, any little public show of emotion will do.  It cheapens and demeans what those who have been through it feel.  Am I jaded?  Hell yes.  Anybody who has been as close to the event as I have doesn’t have a lot of patience for the show.

I do realize that people grieve differently.  My problem is when the media or different organizations or even an individual push their need to commercialize it or sway the way you think to the point where it’s impossible to get away from it.  I feel the way I feel, you feel the way you feel and I’m sure there will be those who decide to blast me for how I feel.  All I can say to them is I hope it never happens to you, and if it does, I hope you aren’t chastised for feeling the way you do.