Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2002 / 5 Tishrei, 5763

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Reliving 9/11 again and again and ... | One year. Ignore it or acknowledge it.

At first, I chose the former but ended up with the latter.

Deciding which way to go reminded me of the debate I held with myself in the week following Sept. 11, 2001. My column ran the day of the attacks, so I had a week to seesaw: Address the obvious or pick another topic for my first post-attack column?

Usually, I'd choose the latter, but I ended up with the former. Not because I thought I had anything exceptional to say but because to ignore the desolation felt disrespectful. With the smoldering sites still fresh and awful and so, so sad, no one was yet looking away.

But one year later, if you do want to look away from looping explosions and flames and ash and shrieks and fleeing people and, and, and -- it will be almost impossible.

Television networks and cable news channels will begin all-day, nonstop, commercial-free programming at the crack of dawn. Newspapers will add to the same stories they've been running, asking the same questions asked three months ago, six months ago, nine months ago. News magazines offer commemorative editions to add to the commemorative editions from last year's Sept. 11.

What's new? Not much. One year isn't long enough to develop much new when we've been seeing and telling and asking and reading the same stories, the same footage, the same how-are-we-different questions and pronouncements. The 21st century's day of infamy -- at least thus far -- must be acknowledged. Memorial services are honorable, traditional remembrances, and many will want to see those events covered on television, the medium that brought us Sept. 11 live and kept us glued and updated.

It's the other stuff that cheapens. But then, that's what we do. Endlessly expose emotion into edited segments of maudlin TV therapy. Wednesday will be the ultimate reality television, complete with Barbara Walters visiting with a therapy group of Sept. 11 widows and their children. Cameras have followed them for months, and now we will too. MTV meets Fox meets queen of the tear-jerker. Several programs, like CBS' "9/11" and HBO's "In Memoriam," will be rebroadcast. Round and round we go.

Which isn't to say there aren't captivating stories, like the ones chronicling the toll on those truly affected by Sept. 11, the spouses and children and parents whose lost person will never return. The survivors left broken and scarred and the caretakers who sustain them.

Most of us aren't those people.

We are the ones annoyed by pointless harassment at airports and amused by color-coded terror alerts. They are the ones crying in grocery stores after spotting a dead husband's favorite food and avoiding places where two parents with their children are numbing, aching reminders for one parent and her children. They are the ones learning to function with bodies not whole.

We cover things until there's nothing left to cover. At least of the emotive sort. The plain-Jane stories without accompanying video for hourly broadcast sit mostly idle -- such as Iraq's possible involvement in both the Oklahoma City bombing and the first World Trade Center attack -- as the media replays and rehashes a loss of innocence that seems to have been declared lost lots of times before. Depends on the story, the time, the crisis.

Every once in a while a great story surfaces. Like the American Airlines baggage carrier who waves planes to their gate with an American flag, and will continue to do so for as many days as there were victims on those four planes. He marks American passengers on one side of his flagpole and United passengers on the other. One passenger said seeing that simple gesture took his breath away. It's a short story I've seen only once. How nice.

We've never had a Sept. 11 that unfolded as we watched, so marking its enormity is new territory.

How we're doing it, though, is old, fed by our 24-hour, in-the-moment culture, where there's never enough. Of anything.

But Sept. 11 isn't reality TV. It's a terrifying reality deserving of restrained reverence and reflection.

Sometimes silence says more.

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Northwest Arkansas Times