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Reclaiming September 11 as a normal day: Calling event “9/11” has unfairly besmirched a date that happens to be my birthday

September 11, 2012

On this, the 11th anniversary of 9/11, I want to begin the process to reclaim the day of September 11 as a normal day again.

Don’t get me wrong. What happened that day in 2001 was terrible and should not be forgotten or downplayed. I would just prefer that what happened not be so firmly attached to and defined by the date it happened. It is almost as if the numbers that make up the date themselves have become evil. It is almost as if the numbers 9/11 have replaced in our mind the horrible events of the day. It is almost as if it was the numbers themselves that did it to us.

It wasn’t.

The numbers 9 and 11 have never been a very good describer for what happened that day. What other historical event do we remember simply by date? OK, maybe the “Fourth of July,” but that is at least spelled out and the month is not replaced with a number and there is some eloquence to the wording. But unless you’re a Tory supporter of George III, there’s little negative associated with that date. Even if 9/11 were changed to a more articulate, expressive, “Eleventh of September,” I still would object to saddling that date on the calendar with such a horrible series of catastrophes.

And so why am I being such a jerk over the semantics of the naming of this historical event? What is the real reason for my objection?

It’s my birthday. And it’s probably the birthday of about a quarter percent of every person in America. We who have birthdays on this day who can remember before 2001, recall that back then, our birthdays fell on September 11. Since 2001, our birthdays have fallen on 9/11.

It is a totally different and altogether, unpleasant vibe. Back in the early part of the decade, when someone filling out a form for me, like a health provider, would ask me my date of birth, I would reply as I usually do: “9-11-64.” And whenever they heard the “9-11” part, they would pause, often touch me on the hand and look at me with pity. “Oh, how awful that must be for you,” they would say. And then, they’d proceed to tell me how they believed some crackpot conspiracy that al-Qaida chose 9/11 for the attack since it was the same as dialing 911 for emergency or something and how the terrorists were able to get the smoke rising from the towers to look like the face of the devil. And then they would proceed to tell me their own personal experience that day, which was usually watching it unfold from afar on TV, like most of the rest of us. Meanwhile, I would say, “Look, I’m late for an appointment, can I just leave my urine sample with you while it is still warm?”

It got to the point where, to avoid a lengthy and unwanted discussion, I would find a different way to tell people my birthday:

• “Uh, ninth month, 11th day, and that was in 1964.”

• “Oh-nine … one-one … six-four.”

• “That was in September. And the day was the 11th. And that was in 1964.”

I would go to great lengths to avoid saying “nine” and “11” together. I would avoid saying “September” and “11th” together.

I didn’t want the pity. Frankly, I didn’t experience any of the horrors of the day firsthand and so I didn’t deserve the pity. The only reason I deserved to be pitied is if someone went to the effort to pity me for it, which they often did. Then I deserved the pity, but ironically, only for being pitied.

In the years after 2001, I actively avoided anything that had to do with the attacks on the anniversary dates. Now, I wasn’t ignorant of what was going on. It was on my mind. I just tried to give myself one day off from thinking about it. However, it just happened to be the date that everyone else decided to focus on it. Since I wanted my birthday to be a pleasant day, I attempted to disassociate the date from the event.

Time has helped heal some of the pain we suffered in 2001. People talk about it less, as it should be, but obviously they have not forgotten, as they should not. And maybe finally after 11 years, I can tell someone my date of birth without them flinching or launching into their unwanted and lengthy colloquium on the topic.

The thing is: I would not have to do this if this historic event were better named. When people first started referring to it as “9/11,” it seemed to me that was kind of a meaningless, flippant, and an irresponsibly reckless shorthand placeholder of a title until someone could come up with something actually usable. But no one ever did. And 9/11 stuck. We didn’t even have the respect or courtesy to pronounce the full date.

Imagine if a comparable day were given such short shrift in the naming department. Then the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor would be forever referred to as 12/7. The day Kennedy was assassinated would be 11/22. The D-Day landings at Normandy in World War II would be 6/6. They all seem a little impertinent and sassy given the gravity of the event. And yet, we have accepted it for the al-Qaida attacks.

Someone with a birthday on say, Nov. 22 or Dec. 7, may have had to endure the terrible and shocking news that occurred on their birthday. But in the years after, they could still remember the anniversary of the shocking news on their birthday without having the event so intrinsically and unnecessarily wrapped up in the actual day. I’m sure that someone with a Nov. 22 birthday giving their date of birth in 1974 was not being pitied and patted on the hand. And it wasn’t because people didn’t remember that Kennedy was assassinated. And it wasn’t necessarily because people didn’t remember the day it happened. It was because we had not wrapped the day itself in black mourning crepe.

We have come to the point where 9/11 could itself become a problem. Because of the negativity we have unfairly associated with the date, the date could attain a status like the number 13 and be seen as an unlucky number or undesirable date.

“We have two candidates for the job,” the exploration committee chairwoman will announce. “They have the exact same qualifications and salary requirements. But one of them has a birthday on 9/11, that seems like a jinx. So let’s hire the other one.” (Crazier things have happened …)

Is it possible that people avoid getting married on 9/11? I would and I’m trying to actively rehabilitate the date. Like architects that design 50-story skyscrapers without an “unlucky” 13th floor, I fear we will eventually move to a 31-day September that skips the painful, black 11th. We will move from the 10th to the 12th and forever screw up that “Thirty Days Hath September” nursery rhyme.

But maybe I’m taking all this too hard. Maybe as time passes, we won’t continue to undeservedly infuse an otherwise innocent date with such despair and anguish. And again, I would hate to see the events of that day be forgotten, I would just like the date itself not to supersede and supplant the events of the day. But maybe, even though the die seems cast on the 9/11 name, I can peacefully co-exist with it. Each year, you can remember the attack victims and heroes on “9/11.” And I will celebrate my birthday on a day that is the same, but branded slightly differently: “The Eleventh of September.”

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Reader Comments (1)

I liked your article except for the part in which you called yourself a "jerk", the way you would excuse yourself from hearing someone's personal story about the eleventh day of September in 2001, and the way you referred to a certain victim of assassination (I would rather have the first and last names of the person rather than just one name, as there could have been another important person with the name "Kennedy" who was assassinated on the same calendar date). I'm sure many other folks share your feelings about the eleventh day of September and wish some prominent and ordinary folks would treat this date like any other.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMario500

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