9/11: Looking back and moving forward
The name Monica is not one-of-a-kind. It’s no Moon Unit or Suri or Apple. But it’s never made the list of most popular baby names of the year, either. So, in 1998 when the story broke about President Bill Clinton’s “improper relations” with his intern, Monica Lewinsky, it was as if my sister’s name, which until then had pretty much been exclusively hers, was stripped from her like a sparkly halter top off a professional dancer. Suddenly her name was on the front page of every newspaper. It was the punch line of tawdry jokes from morning radio personalities coast to coast. Everyone from her coworkers to random cashiers had something to say about her name. And none of it was complimentary.
That was bad enough. But things went from bad to way worse a few years later. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you what happened on September 11, 2001. (After all, that job belongs to Rudy Giuliani and the twenty-four hour cable news networks.) As luck—really, really bad luck—would have it, September 11 is my sister Monica’s birthday. Imagine trying to celebrate your birthday on a day that will forever be associated with the single-largest terrorist attack in US history. It’s hard to have an extra spring in your step on your special day when the rest of the nation is in mourning.
Fast forward another seven years or so. Barrack Obama was elected president and unprecedented feelings of hope and change swept the nation. Time eventually heals all wounds. Or does it? Along with Obama came a new Speaker of the House named Nancy Pelosi. My sister's last name is Pesoli… just one easy consonant transposition away.
Pesoli has never been an easy name. People hearing it for the first time always want to talk about that savory Mexican soup called Posole. Then comes the next step: spelling it—which usually takes no fewer than three tries. But now, thanks to Nancy Pelosi, there’s a third step to budget time for: doubling back and correcting the spelling from Pelosi to Pesoli.
Over the years, almost every aspect of Monica’s personal identity has been collaterally damaged by scandal, political events or terrorist attacks. All of these assaults on her identity have affected her to some degree. But the one that has taken the biggest toll has been sharing a birthday with a huge national tragedy.
Monica still celebrates her birthday, of course, but ever since 9/11—I mean, the 9/11—her birthday has taken a backseat to the tributes to the events that occurred on that dark day in 2001. If she’s celebrating with friends, she’s more likely to do it at home rather than out. And if she’s celebrating out, it’s more likely to take the form of a quiet dinner with just family or a few friends.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. And I think it’s time for Monica to have her full birthday privileges restored, complete with a green light to celebrate as she chooses. We will always remember what happened on September 11, 2001. But allowing that tragedy to permanently dim all events on every September 11 for the rest of time extends the half-life of the attacks and in that way increases the casualty toll. I don’t want to be complicit in widening that circle of impact. There comes a time when grief recedes and remembrance remains; and mourning death gets replaced with celebrating life. Moving forward doesn’t disrespect the tragedy, but rather helps the wounds from it heal by making room for emotions other than pain and sadness.
So, this September 11, do your part to fight terrorism: In addition to remembering those who lost their lives or their loved ones in the terrorist attacks, take a minute to wish my sister Monica a happy birthday (but skip the Lewinsky jokes and make sure you spell her last name right). After all, it’s her day, too.