Time to let go of Sept. 11 observances

NEW YORK CITY — Sept. 11 isn’t just a date that will live in infamy. It has become an entire industry.

From airport upgrades and jetliner retrofitting to public surveillance, building security and corporate protection — just to cite a few examples — what happened on that blue sky morning 10 years ago and a day has become a national preoccupation.

For all of those changes, nuances and nuisances: we have little choice but to put up with them.

But today, after 10 years of ceremonies and memorials, the annual reading of names, debates about how to honor the dead and sometimes all of it wrapped up in political grandstanding, it is time to let go of those parts of 9/11.

There is a National 9/11 Memorial opening to the public today on the site of the original Twin Towers. Construction of a new World Trade center is well under way. The first building will be taller than the Willis Tower in Chicago when it is done.

The Pentagon is back in one piece, rebuilt at the spot the jetliner crashed into it on Sept. 11, 2001. There is a fine memorial in Pennsylvania where that plane went down.

The people who died that day, nearly 3,000 of them, have now been gone for a decade.

They include passengers on the airplanes, the financiers and maintenance workers, the first responders and the public employees. How many of them would want their spouses and their children, their parents and their friends and their co-workers, to endure year after year of public mourning.

The annual pilgrimage to ground zero for 9/11 seems to have become a mandatory trek for some family members. A few decided not to come this year, even though it was the 10th one. There is talk that it will be the last large scale ceremony and for many that would be a welcome break.

A sense of obligation, carried out in drudgery, doesn’t seem to fit the spirit of those souls who died on 9/11 from a sucker punch by foreign terrorists.

The circumstances of what happened that day certainly warranted the memorials, dedications and ceremonies that have been held since 2001. But it is 2011 and the decade mark seems like a good opportunity to let go.

Without diminishing the personal pain and national suffering that resulted from 9/11, there are other ghastly attacks that deserve attention. For instance, in metro Chicago since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been almost twice as many people murdered as were killed by terrorists in the Twin Towers.

Nearly 5,000 people have been killed, mostly shot, primarily in gang or drug violence, since 9/11. So much for all of us coming together to love one another following that dark day 10 years ago.

I expect that the idea of letting go of 9/11 will not sit well with some. That is understandable. Painful memories, vivid bad dreams and even the negative forces many people face every day are difficult enough to release.

Sept. 11th will undoubtedly remain a day of personal mourning for those who lost loved ones or friends during the terror attacks. They may still gather on 9/11 every year to quietly celebrate their loss. Or maybe they will go to a restaurant and toast the memory of their husband, wife, mother or father. Some will wear shirts like the one in the picture, in remembrance of the person who died.

But if they and others let go of 9/11, they just won’t do it after enduring another public ceremony.

For the rest of us, there is no chance that the date, Sept. 11, will ever be the same — like the 10th or the 13th. For our generation it will always be personal, as it should. For future generations, the public memorials will preserve the memory of what happened that day.

Letting go of Sept. 11 doesn’t mean forgetting about it or forgetting about those who died. It does take courage to let go.

The same kind of courage those people who died on 9/11 must have had in their final moments.

Ÿ Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at and followed at