Remembering September 11: Why We Still Do Not Have Closure, More Than a Decade Later

Last year, the unveiling of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at Ground Zero marked the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. This year, there will again be a commemoration ceremony at the memorial in New York where the families and loved ones of those who died will gather and participate in the remembrance of the nearly 3,000 victims from 2001. 

There has been less media build-up to the event this year, which may have something to do with politicians not being allowed to speak at the memorial. But has the nation processed the trauma of 9/11 and put the events of that day behind us? Has this day become only a dull term politicians use to justify their foreign policies or to fuel greater divisions? As we think about September 11th, we should think about those around the world who still suffer today, and what we can do to help.

The anniversary this year is especially significant to many because a small victory has been achieved for first responders and their families: The federal government is expected to acknowledge the causal link between Ground Zero and cancer.

For the first time, firefighters and emergency personnel with cancers related to their exposure to toxic substances as a result of their rescue efforts will be able to file claims for compensation under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is to announce the inclusion of about 50 cancers on the list, which had previously covered mostly respiratory illnesses. The Act designated $4.3 billion in 2010 to those who became ill as a result of Ground Zero debris and substances, and so far more than 60,000 responders and survivors are being monitored and receiving treatment. No plans have yet been announced to increase the fund even though more people will apply for compensation due to more expansive coverage. For those who have already passed away or are in the terminal stages of their illness with mountains of debt waiting for them or their families, this legislation may be 11 years too late.

Even though we are reminded of the pain and horrors of that day, today should evoke the strength that brought Americans of different ideologies and beliefs together, not the hatred that drove us to fight a war that has resulted in the very suffering that we have tried to forget. Today should also inspire compassion in all of us because the pain from that day is still felt by the ones who lost loved ones in the attacks; wounds formed and continue to form for mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and partners of those fighting and dying in the Middle East.

We must remember the victims of not only the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also innocent civilians who continue to live in danger and fear as a result of ongoing conflict in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

The proliferation of media outlets has made this global suffering painfully palpable, but at the same time reminds us that we are not alone in our frustrations with the corruption, ignorance, incompetence, and obliviousness of our governments. More importantly, we should rely on each other rather than on our political leaders to solve some of our most important problems. There are many people who have selflessly devoted their time and efforts to helping the downtrodden, and at the very least, we should acknowledge their work and thank them for their dedication.

Regardless of whatever positions our governments take when dealing (or not) with these issues, the bond of humanity should compel us to speak up against war and persecution, for Americans can give a voice to those who do not have one.

September 11th is certainly a day to remember, but it is also a day to take action. The time to rebuild our nation by opening up to others and examining our own beliefs is long overdue, for the solidarity we feel on this day should be used to strengthen our community every day and extended to our brethren around the world who want the very freedom that we hold dear, but often take for granted.