Last year, on 9/10/04, I saw a brief ad featuring Laura Bush wherein she announced that tomorrow was 9/11, “now known as — Patriot Day.” It hit me hard, it alarmed me. When was that decided? Who voted on that? I knew I hadn’t been consulted! I knew there had been some debate about whether or not to make 9/11 a national holiday, and what to call it, with “Patriot Day” being pushed by some folks, and the much more appropriate “Remembrance Day” offered by others. Still, I hadn’t heard of any vote, and had to wonder if asserting “Patriot Day” in the ad was an end-around the discussion.
I learned just this past week that in December of 2001, the U.S. Congress actually passed a bill proclaiming 9/11 “Patriot Day.” There’s a White House photo of Bush on 9/11/04 and a link to his brief speech here.
Now, whatever I may think of President George Bush, I do believe that 9/11 struck him to the core and gave him pause, as it did for may of us. I also have no doubt that Laura Bush’s announcement was made out of sincerity.
This still troubles me. This is serious stuff. Even though I knew 9/11 would become politicized, it still wounds me deeply that this happened. It was just too important an event to be cheapened or distorted. And “patriot” is such a charged word, unfortunately often used as a weapon, not as a uniter. The undoubtedly American practice of dissent is often attacked as “unpatriotic.” “Patriotic” is typically used to describe a feeling of nationalistic fervor, when one of the amazing aspects of 9/11 was the outpouring of international support and sympathy towards us. After 9/11, the French proclaimed, “We are all Americans.”
Everyone grieves in their own way. Everyone feels whatever they feel, be it anger, sorrow, shock... or something completely different. I have no problem with a citizen wanting to call 9/11 “patriot day” if that speaks to them. I remain uncomfortable with the term as an official designation. I do not want to be told what to feel. I do not want to be told that 9/11 meant a particular thing. It is too late to wish that it will not be politicized. It is not too late to remember the astounding degree of personal connection within our country and the international good will that flourished after the horrible events of that day.
Official pronouncements aside, the American public calls things whatever it wishes. Even though the turn of the millennium was actually January 1st, 2001, in the public imagination the date was January 1st, 2000, and that’s when it was celebrated. Similarly but with better judgment, I would argue, “Patriot Day” has never really caught on. I hope it never will. To most everyone, 9/11 will always be just that, “9/11.” This is as it should be. 9/11 means many things to many different people, and while many of us hold the day sacred, it seems to me that honoring individual responses to it is also a sacred duty. The magic of the days and weeks after 9/11 was about bringing the best parts of our private lives into the public arena; surely it was not about public policy intruding on the intensely private and personal.
What are the responses to 9/11? The Washington Post’s lead editorial notes that young people of a certain age on 9/11/01 have become more intent on community service, social work, voting, and what might be called a general engagement. With Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, this trend could not be more welcome.
Meanwhile, I can’t imagine ever not treating 9/11 as a day of reflection, and I know many folks who feel the same way. Below are the reflections I sent out in previous years. Have a good day — no, have your day however you wish. But I hope it will be a good one.