The Mountain Times

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A Moment of Silence

Like many Americans, I spent September 11, 2011, watching football - which seemed to me not an especially noble way to occupy myself on the tenth anniversary of our nation's greatest tragedy, but then again, for most of us, life, unfortunately, isn't about being noble; for most of us, it's about stuff like watching football. Anyway, while watching, I discovered something about myself that I think would make me unpopular with a lot of people if I admitted it, which is precisely why I feel that I have to admit it to you.

Here it is: I'm really, really uncomfortable with most 9/11 tributes. As you probably recall, the National Football League ran spots featuring Robert De Niro (who gravely intoned, "The NFL remembers"), played "Taps," and unfurled giant flags. Uniforms bore stitched-on ribbons; Rex Ryan wore an FDNY hat. You could hear "USA, USA" chants from the crowd. And I know people enjoyed this, but hear me out.

For ages, professional athletics organizations - especially the NFL and the MLB - have self-servingly promoted a link between sports and country. The idea is that, since football and baseball are American games, played (much of the time) by American athletes, watching them is an act of patriotism, like eating apple pie or pledging allegiance to the flag. A Bengals-Browns matchup isn't a meaningless helmet-bashing contest between millionaires: it's a celebration of the USA, of all of us. With its culture of patriotism, the NFL naturally had to plan something special for the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, right?

What I believe is that the most respectful thing the NFL could have done would have been not to mention 9/11 at all. No memorials, no songs, no shots of firefighters or of the New York skyline. If they'd wanted to pay tribute, they could have done so by recognizing that football games - no matter how thickly shrouded in red, white, and blue - are silly, insignificant things and have no business involving themselves with tragedies. We don't build Holocaust memorials inside amusement parks; we don't hold circuses on top of graveyards.

There was a lot of talk on Sunday about remembrance, but the truth about football is that it's not about remembering; it's about forgetting. We watch football precisely in order to forget about stuff like 9/11. The NFL designs tributes in order to assuage our consciences about this: if we spend ten seconds in silent commemoration of the dead, then maybe we won't feel so bad about spending the rest of the afternoon drinking beer and going crazy over famous, living people throwing a ball around. We're not doing this for the victims of the tragedy - we're doing it for ourselves.

Grieving is hard, but ceremonies are easy; one of the uses of the latter, I think, is to absolve us from doing the former in a thoughtful, difficult manner. If you want to spend 9/11's anniversaries thinking about those whom we lost, that certainly is commendable. If, on the other hand, you want to spend your 9/11s watching football, well, then, let's at least admit what we're doing. Let's not have our fun and say we're actually mourning. The ceremonies don't really count.

One of the terrible parts about disasters in which a lot of people are killed is that they leave the rest of us behind, alive, and we're not better human beings afterward or more profound. The majority of us remain trivial people who go about doing trivial things and, for the most part, not thinking about all the horrible, serious things in the world. To my mind, it's more honorable for us to accept this and try to forgive ourselves - because, after all, we're human, just like the deceased once were, and if they were in our spot, they'd probably be living the same way we are - than to try bolster our egos by injecting our trivialities with faux-solemnity.

So, with that in mind, let's talk about Facebook. On Sunday, my Facebook feed brimmed with somber tributes, nearly all of which contained the phrase "Never forget." One thing I noticed about these posts, though, is that none of them contained any real memories or talked about any people; they merely paid brief lip-service to the act of remembrance. The mourners had dropped off their flowers and quickly departed, their duty publicly fulfilled.

I confess that I actually got angry enough about this that I was tempted to write snarky replies to my friends' statuses: yes, snark, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 - I actually wanted to make fun of these memorialists, contradict them, correct their grammar. I wanted desperately to admit my triviality and thereby force others, somehow, to admit their own. As some of my less thoughtful friends began to switch their profile pictures to photos of the Twin Towers and the American flag, I was, perhaps somewhat crazily, on the verge of accusing them of actually enjoying 9/11 - they liked feeling as though they were a part of an important historical event. And probably this was a little bit true for some of them - everyone wants to be a part of history - but it's such a hurtful accusation that it really shouldn't be hurled around. 9/11 is a complicated, confusing subject, and people's feelings are complicated and confused; people aren't monsters.

There is a place, I know, for group mourning, for coming together and sharing sorrow. Maybe Facebook, with its 500-character-maximum status updates, isn't that place. But if we feel like saying something, let's forgo another self-flattering "We'll never forget." Here's my suggestion: "We spend most of our time trying to forget, but sometimes we still remember."

Tagged: generation y, Brett Yates