Not Even Past

The Delta Variant is a reality made by cultural claims scratched into our minds. A certain type of American freedom is worth the death of children – it’s a war cry long shouted abroad and now hissed at home.  

Meg Conley, “Many Happy Returns: a Birthday on September 11. 

In her latest posting, Meg Conley of Homeculture leads us from Manifest Destiny through the 1999 Columbine school shooting to 9/11 and the pandemic. Drawing a line, and then a circle. Pointing out along the way: this is who we are.

These are our delusions.

They are scratched into our minds like the ruts formed by wagon wheels heading west to claim our destiny.

It felt like a subdued remembrance this year, at least from my vantage point here in the midsection of this brainsick country. The sign stuck in the ground at the local American Legion said, “Never Forget,” but I don’t know what it is, exactly, I’m supposed to remember.

If it’s the image of the burning towers, CNN has those pictures preserved for posterity. If it’s the lessons to be drawn, it’s unclear what those lessons are. Those of us who lived through that day and the days that followed may have witnessed the same events but we don’t share a common understanding of what it was we were seeing.

What it meant. What it means.

Even at a twenty-year remove it’s hard for Americans to find a way through to that common understanding, in no small part because 9/11 was not only a tradegy and an outrage, it was a humiliation. The most powerful nation in the world was brought to its knees in the full light of day by a handful of men with boxcutters.

Never forget.

How does a nation forge a narrative borne of humiliation? For clues we can look to a defeated Germany after the first World War, look to the American Confederacy. Ask ourselves, at what point is humiliation ever fully avenged?

Ask ourselves, what will it take this time?

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

The events and aftermath of 9/11 have not yet crystalized into a shared narrative, a story we tell with a beginning, middle, and end, because we all know it’s not over. It didn’t end with the death of Osama bin Laden or of Saddam Hussein. It won’ t end with the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan.

Ask the ones who currently wave the Confederate battle flag, “When did the Civil War end?” They’ll tell you straight up: it never did.

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