It is impossible not to know that today is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, given the extent of media coverage. But it is very possible not to know quite how to feel about it.
Rather than shy away from the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing how to feel when many seem quite sure, I hope that some of us won't — that instead we'll take the opportunity this anniversary presents to think a little about what we feel.
Ten years ago, I was still in graduate school and living in Manhattan. The morning of Sept. 11, I rode the train to the college in the Bronx where I was teaching.
Since I was early to my meeting, I bought a sugary coffee at the Dominican bodega on the way from the subway to campus and sat on a bench to drink it.
It was, as has been noted over and over again, an unusually clear day, with beautiful deep blue skies.
When I think back to that day, I remember the skies first. Then I remember the confusion, the failed attempts to call my sister in New Jersey, whose husband Andy worked in the upper floors of the north tower, the long and difficult trip back into Midtown, the armored vehicles and soldiers standing in the middle of the street when we emerged above ground, the hours spent running from hospital to hospital downtown, trying to find my brother-in-law, or a list of survivors, or anything.
I remember the time my wife and I spent in the days that followed waiting in line outside the armory to register Andy as missing, waiting — for what? — at the support center his firm set up in a hotel on the Upper East Side, walking my dog through the impromptu shrine that Union Square became.
I remember watching the video of the towers crumbling a couple of miles south of my apartment and turning my head to see the smoke from the towers out of our window, the smoke whose inescapable smell lingered longer than seemed possible.
It is important for people to remember this moment. It is important for my wife and me to feel sad, to call my sister, to talk to our boys about their uncle and how he died.
But sad isn't the only thing I feel. Today will be marked by many communities and families and individuals, and in the midst of these remembrances, many besides me will feel things that won't necessarily fit with the official national mood of triumphalist patriotism.
They may feel a sadness that is not about the almost 3,000 victims of the attacks but about the nearly 6,000 American soldiers killed in the past 10 years or about the uncounted hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed since March 2003.
They may feel confused about how all this could have happened — how over a trillion dollars has been spent on war, how we could have so quickly turned international support into condemnation, how we could have so quickly abandoned our commitment to some kind of just conduct of war and to civil liberties, how we could have become a nationalist caricature of our patriotic better selves.
They may feel angry about the killing done in their name, under false pretenses. They may feel outrage at the quashing of dissent and the use of torture.
They may feel despair as, 10 years later, we seem still not to have learned any lessons from the event — about the history of U.S. conduct in the region these men were from that led to their inexcusable but not inexplicable actions, about how wrong our response has gone, about how much the bill for all of this is going to come to.
I will be sad today. I will be sad about Andy and my sister and her children's loss of their father, and I will be sad about the American, Afghan and Iraqi lives destroyed.
I will be angry about the jingoistic mood that has overtaken the country. But I will also be hopeful.
It is my hope that the many others who feel the same things that I do are talking about them with friends and family whose feelings about 9/11 aren't as complicated as theirs.
While I don't want these conversations to ruin any late summer cookouts, they're important to have. We need to be able to talk about these things, to have complicated feelings about them and to occasionally antagonize our brother-in-law.
I wish mine were still around to have a good political argument with under a bright blue September sky. I want to honor him by being true to my feelings.
I hope that others who want to honor the memory of that day will do the same.
Samuel Cohen is an associate professor and the director of graduate studies in the English department at MU.