Scraps of Paper

I can’t write about it because I wasn’t there. But I’ve grown up in its aftermath. Every autumn, that one day. Homework wasn’t due; assignments weren’t added; class wasn’t roudy or noisy. And, for one of the few times of the year, the old box-set TV screens were turned on, buzzing to life as disoriented pixels ricocheted together. In later years, the projectors and Smartboards glowed with orderly, burdened pixels. I imagine they silently shuddered at the footage they were tasked to display that day. I know I did.

It used to be this way. But not so much anymore. The last bit of footage I saw in school was in eighth grade, maybe. Even then it was only in social studies, and minimal at best. It seemed to have just stopped. In high school, there were no showings of clips or playings of audio. No images, no conversations, no moments of reverent silence for the incomprehensible. Maybe, in New York, the day is still like that. At least, I hope it is.

Once, senior year, we had a discussion, but that was in AP Government. Almost more a teaching tool because it could be applied to our curriculum concepts. When it was first brought up, several of my peers hadn’t even realized what day it was. Like that, it is ever the sobering moment. But now it is ever just a moment, until normal life, the normal life we complain about, continues. I’m sure to those people the seconds didn’t feel very momentary. I think they would’ve felt an eternity.

My friend always remembered, always the respect for her country. For my country.

“It’s 9/11 today, guys,” she’d say in class, usually history.

Her voice had this obsolete talent of stating facts as facts without inflicting any judgement with its tone. It’s 9/11 today. Sometimes, anymore, the fact doesn’t even resonate in different words. September 11th, or the 11th of September, can often slip by. But 9/11 catches every hearer’s attention. Maybe because it is its own noun. Nothing else comes close. It is not the 11th; it is 9/11. You can’t captitalize numerical symbols, but with these, you don’t need to.

I can’t forget the sinking of my stomach the first time I saw it. And every time since. The heartbreak of hearing their voices. Bystanders, first responders, victims, citizens. Humans. The indefinable emotion of watching human beings fall from skyscapers like so many scraps of paper ravished by the wind. Emotion that tears at lungs and arteries and ribs. I imagine no eleven-year-old can define that emotion. Can anyone define that emotion? Of watching steel towers, fortified, strong, upright, slid to the ground like sand castles and shattered like abused egg shells. And in that moment learning how truly fragile glass, and life, can be.

People are more than just scraps of paper. More than fodder for political statements. More than fuel for agendas like blazing coal trains, engines melting at the seams, indifferent flames that breathe destruction like oxygen, whose end goals should ever be overshadowed by their echoes of obliteration left in their wake. Until we forget. Until we no longer teach it in schools. Until we no longer give it the reverence it is due. Until we forget that the creatures walking next to us, sitting next to us, drowning next to us, are humans. Humans with struggles and pain and horrors beyond our frivolous debates. Humans with joys and glee and triumphs beyond our petty assumptions.

More than difference, more than violence, more than terror, may we never forget that we are human. Not I, or you, or they. We. We are humans, breathing sacred Breath, a holy warmth of life that does not discriminate. God-breathed, God-raised, Beloved. Human.


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