I had every intention of writing something significant about the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Instead, I highly recommend this piece by Richard Powers about that day. It captures our difficulty grasping what happened, which may explain why we’ve had such difficulty responding to it w/anything approaching a satisfactory or helpful response.
I think of 9/11 and I think: Failure of imagination. We failed to imagine how much people could be driven to attack the U.S. and international capitalism, and we failed to imagine a response that might reduce some of that drive by making the world a more open, safe, and fair place. Today we are failing to imagine how our world could be different, better, so that we might truly start working toward that world.
Yesterday five years ago I was a graduate student working toward a PhD in English at the University of Illinois. I read critical theory, philosophy, and fiction, and thought very hard about how stories have changed and might in the future change the world. At the time, no amount of money could have made me consider going to law school and becoming a lawyer. I believe I am where I am today because of 9/11, or rather, because of the terrible and ongoing response to it. The events of that day did not make me feel helpless and frustrated and afraid for the future. Instead, the aftermath, the weeks and months and now years of ongoing and growing bloodshed, oppression, inequality and injusticeâ€”all supposedly being perpetrated for my sake, in my name as an American citizenâ€”that did make me feel helpless, frustrated, afraid, and angry, too. Grad school, “the ivory tower,” no longer seemed so important. I thought law school would put in me in a better position to do something more concrete to address the problems I saw in the world.
Now, five years on, it’s hard to say whether I made the right choice. The world is still apparently going to hell in a handbasket, and it’s hard to argue that I’m really doing much about that. I miss the life I left, but I find great value in the life I’m living now, too. And who knows where this current path may lead? Thinking of how much my life and the world have changed in just five years gives me a sort of perverse hope. Change is a constant. Five years from now everything could be completely different. Better.
What story would you like to be telling five years from now? Don’t allow your imagination to fail.