The first time I ever heard a personal story from the day of 9/11 was in a book called New York, September 11 by Magnum Photographers.
Steve McCurry and his coworkers that day emotionally explained the details of the day from seeing the explosion in the first tower from their apartment to crossing under caution tape blocking off the area, and the 18 plus hours each spent documenting the confused, sorrowful and painfully tired city.
The images and stories made me emotional, but it never amounted to the emotions of visiting the memorial.
Before going to New York, I had seen pictures of the new tower and the fountains next to it, but I expected much smaller. I knew the New World Trade Center stood 1775 feet high, and the two pools span across 16 acres, but it felt unreal.
I didn’t cry much, but I was struck with silence. There were no words. Nothing came to mind. I felt empty. I felt queasy. To think that where I stood, workers, first-responders, travelers had lost their lives rocked my mental and emotional understanding of 9/11 up to that point.
2,983. Two thousand, nine hundred and eighty-three people died.
I vividly remember touching a name. Donna M. Bernaerts. She had a white rose. It was her birthday when I visited. When my cold fingers met the warm engraved metal, I felt my eyes well up in sympathetic, overwhelming fear. This minute, three-second experience returns with every photo I see and every story I read.
Because of this, I am in awe of the ability of family members and friends of 2,983 people to cope. Seventeen years later, relatives of any degree are left with the horrifying images from low-quality televisions and haunting voicemails saying goodbyes. They are left a dramatically emphasized three-second experience through old photographs and a carved out name neighboring 2,982 others.
It is extremely inappropriate, insensitive and inconsiderate to joke about the events of 9/11 regardless of circumstance or intent.
Seventeen years have passed. We live in a time where high-school seniors were not yet born when the attacks happened. We live in a culture that is slowly forgetting the depth of emotions that relentlessly silenced the nation. As we grow older and time passes, we lose touch with the fear of September 11.
Most current college students cannot recall where they were or what they were doing when it happened, and that’s OK. But it isn’t acceptable to disregard the emptiness others feel on a daily basis, especially on 9/11.
Making jokes and memes out of a tragic event that continues to impact our nation is an inability to comprehend sensitivity to emotion and grieving.
I used to disregard the memes and conspiracies, and sometimes laugh at them, until three seconds changed everything.
I urge everyone to seek their own three seconds. A trip to New York is a little extensive, sure. But the desire to understand the long-term grief starts with eliminating jokes, because it will always be too soon to joke.