9/11 Not for Fun and Games

It’s been more than a year. And the idea of closure has escaped even the media. Everyone knows better now. There is no closure. No time limit on grief or loss. No one expects families, or friends, or anyone else to be over it already–or ever. September 11, 2001, will never be over for anyone who sat in disbelief and horror, watching the world as we knew it come to an end. It will never be over for me.

Last week I attended the national conference of the Association for Women in Communications. As part of the conference, the AWC presented its Clarion Awards for excellence in communications. Each time I walked past the September 12, 2001, edition of the Bergen Record, which won a Clarion for breaking news coverage, I would hyperventilate. This was a number of times a day, for four days.  

I didn’t lose anyone close to me. A few good friends from my section of the hockey arena lost a childhood friend on the first plane. A programmer who works on my custom software lost his mother on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. And because I’m in the financial services industry, countless friends and colleagues knew brokers, traders, and other financial professionals who worked and died in the twin towers. 

Charlie, the Harlem fire chief who shares Rangers tickets with one of my closest friends, lost his lieutenant, 200 men he knew personally, over 300 brothers. I remember worrying about Charlie until I heard he was alive the morning of September 12. I remember worrying about him as he went to funerals every day for months and refused to take a day off until the department forced him to take a month of vacation. 

Those I knew best were the buildings. The printer who produced the research I publish was located across Liberty and a little parking lot on the corner of Cedar and Greenwich. Each time I’d visit, I’d take the train from Philly to Newark, pop across the platform to the PATH to WTC. And walk across the street to visit my vendor. It never failed to amaze me the number of people who poured out of PATH up the bifurcated bank of escalators and stairs and through the buildings. I always felt so professional and cosmopolitan when I walked through the lobbies on my way to a meeting. 

I’d eaten lunch at Windows on the World and taken friends to the observation deck to see the magnificent view. On September 11, 2001, each of the three friends who were in the WTC’s own picture of us emailed each other. We each have a copy of that picture close at hand. We had met on a beautiful spring day when we visited, light-hearted wild women on the town. We four will never meet again with the same sense of carefree joy. The shadow of the towers will always dim the light. 

I know from a friend who’d been back to the building on Cedar Street of desks covered with broken glass, gray dust, and shoes. All that was left of the people in those towers were shoes. Everywhere. The empty shoes still haunt me. 

There were no sleeping nightmares until nine months later. In the first one I was standing talking to a friend on Michigan Avenue in Chicago when I heard and saw a ladder truck rushing by. I turned to see (at an angle impossible in reality) the steel superstructure of the John Hancock Building being lifted into place by black helicopters. The building had apparently fallen over, and all that was left was the skeleton, to be lifted back into place. I woke from that one gasping for air.  

A few weeks later I dreamt that I lived in an apartment building on the shore of Lake Michigan. My building was on fire, near a top floor. As my neighbors and I stood watching the building burn, four black fighter planes flew sideways into a neighboring skyscraper, battering at the sides of the building again and again until they were able to knock the top off. That night I had to get up and walk around, trying to wake enough to be sure I wouldn’t return to the dream when I went back to sleep. 

I know by now you’re wondering what this has to do with sports. It shouldn’t have anything to do with sports. But last night, the Philadelphia Flyers opened the 2002-03 regular season. And being unable to celebrate any particular accomplishment–there were no banners to raise, no anniversaries to crow about–they decided to use good old-fashioned patriotism to get the home crowd charged up.  

They paraded out skating children with the stars and stripes. They played the Ray Charles version of “America the Beautiful” (pretty much certain to induce tears among the susceptible, of whom I am most definitely one) and then Lauren Hart, the voice of the Flyers, sang the Flyers theme song, “God Bless America”–an event guaranteed to bring down the house.

I was vaguely uncomfortable. I love patriotic displays, but I prefer them on patriotic occasions, or at least in response to current events. I prefer not to have my patriotism used as a method to generate crowd noise for a less-than-successful franchise desperate for a theme to open its season. 

But the Flyers didn’t stop there. No, they needed a big finish to get the home crowd on its feet and roaring. Clearly, they knew the introduction of the players, many of whom will play this season under the cloud created by their own poor play and big mouths in the past playoff season, was not going to have the desired effect on the crowd. (And how priceless are the lyrics of this year’s pregame theme song, “A little less conversation, a little more action?”) 

So, the Flyers rolled out the big guns. Dropping the puck for the home opener were the sons of Flight 93 hero Todd Beamer, five-year-old David and three-year-old Drew. Plenty of fans had the desired reaction, they rose to their feet and cheered wildly. I sat down and shook my head in disgust. I refuse to be manipulated by the Flyers’ soulless exploitation of the orphaned children of a murder victim. 

And I have to wonder, what is Lisa Beamer thinking allowing it? The Todd Beamer Foundation, according to its website, “has spent the last year developing a program called Heroic Choices to help meet the long-term needs of traumatized children. The goal is to help these children learn how to navigate life’s obstacles, overcome adversity and grow to be healthy, productive and responsible adults.” The foundation was established because “the effects of trauma on children run much deeper, often times lasting into adulthood, than anyone could ever imagine.” 

Knowing this, how can you think that sending babies out on public appearance schedules, making them the center of attention (well meaning or otherwise) to promote sporting events will help those little guys in the long run? I fear for their reactions when they are older, and more aware of their loss. What will they think, looking back on themselves bewildered but smiling for the camera? 

I will never forget the losses of September 11. I will never cease to weep for all that was lost and damaged that day. But I would appreciate it if marketing and public relations hacks would spare me the use of my genuine emotion over a national tragedy to hype their products. And please, don’t use the victims to sell sports. It’s not just unseemly, it’s cruel.


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