The vendors were lined up three to a corner, hawking small American flags two for $10 and "Freedom Tees" and 9/11 baseball caps and cheap baubles with ghostly outlines of the fallen towers. Church groups of every stripe passed out glossy postcards, trying to drum up business. Police in riot gear held back a noisy protest with about 300 conspiracy theorists who chanted, "9/11 was an inside job!" They held large banners with slogans such as "The Bush Regime Engineered 9/11. ...
Across the street, the hate-filled rants about 9/11 conspiracies rose in pitch. A grief-stricken woman emerged from viewing the displays of 9/11 artifacts inside St. Paul's and shook her fist at the protesters across the street. "I want to punch you in the face," she yelled.
Three young men shooting a rap video sauntered down the street. One held a boom box that pumped out a beat. They glared into a high-def camera, hands grabbing at crotches, blurting out profanity-laced rhymes about Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama. A woman with a frizzy mane of blonde hair walked through the crowd naked from the waist up, with a mustache scrawled on her lip with a black Sharpie pen. She carried a Leica camera and was apparently engaged in some sort of performance art or gender protest. She stopped to talk with a group of photographers she knew and laughed about how the cops were afraid to
stop her.Then there were the gawkers, thick masses of tourists more intent on photographing each other with cellphones than listening to the names of victims being read or the personal messages offered by family members.
In the past, when Americans wanted to be mindful of terrible events and their losses from them, their leaders called them to prayer and fasting. In our happily secular age many of us can do without the prayer, but some equivalent of fasting, or of mortification, might be in order, if our purpose is to mourn and not to praise ourselves for our sensitivity and resilience as if we were modern, materialist pharisees. It might be an aid to contemplation if the news networks were to go dark for the day rather than compete to best reflect our collective narcissism. Of course, that would defeat the purpose, for the scope of remembrance yesterday was certainly tailored to the content needs of the 24-hour news media. Did we really need to remember so much, so publicly and regularly, before the media needed us to? To ask is not to prefer forgetting, but to ask further what we really remember, and what is worth remembering. Are we any wiser after yesterday, or even after ten years? About certain things -- perhaps. About others -- most likely not.