10 Years After 9/11, We’re Still Nervous: Why That’s O.K.


Yesterday, along with a lot of grief and terrible sadness, there was also courage, and hope to move on, while, of course, “never forgetting.” And there was a lot of nervousness. Nervousness about a possible terror attack, which we had been warned there was a “credible” threat of. Nervousness about what happened 10 years ago, which is a kind of nervousness that will never go away and instead ebbs and flows, depending on the day and what’s happening around us. Nervousness about planes in the air, and who might be flying, and who might want to do what to us. We had been urged to say something if we saw something, and so, we did. Various security incidents around the U.S. were reported, some more dramatic than others.

In one, occurring yesterday afternoon, @NYScanner tweeted the news of a scare on American Airlines Flight 34, heading from L.A. to New York City. The initial story was that three passengers had locked themselves in the plane’s bathroom. Fighter jets were assigned for intercept. Everyone was heading for Manhattan! (These are not things a person wants to hear, particularly not on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, after threatening messages have been posted on the White House Facebook wall.) As such, people got even more nervous. After some frenzy, much of which simply spread the panic, this turned out to be nothing more than a three guys who kept having to pee (the rumor is they may have been drunk). Upon arrival, they were asked a few questions and released without charges.

A bit later, another situation was reported: a Frontier Airlines flight en route from Denver to Detroit had two passengers aboard who were behaving oddly, oddly enough to report. They were also, it seemed, up to no good in the bathroom. But it was “no good” of a different kind — they were “making out,” per ABC News, or, more colloquially, attempting to join the Mile-High Club, a dubious honor at best, made worse on this particular day. Again, fighter jets were involved, the plane was met by law enforcement, and all was deemed okay, except that people are still attempting to join the Mile-High Club.

Today, as we were writing this post, we learned that there had been reports of a suspicious U-Haul outside a courthouse in West Palm Beach, FL. Reports of suspicious packages in New York City over the weekend more than tripled from the same time last year, to more than 340, reports NY1. And surely there will be more such reports throughout the day. We are still on heightened alert — though, since 10 years ago, we have been in a constant state of heightened alert — and yesterday made very clear that our wounds have not healed, but have only been under wraps for a while, emerging on the occasion, when the nervousness kicks up again. Not that we would have expected those feelings to be gone, it’s just, some days, we almost don’t feel them. Until, yet again, we are reminded repeatedly of the ways in which we may not be safe.

But in not “suspicious” but true tragedies, there were things that actually did occur: An explosion at a nuclear waste treatment site in France killed one and wounded four. A leaking pipeline exploded in Kenya, killing at least 61 and injuring many more, setting homes on fire in its vicinity. These are not terror attacks, no, and therefore they don’t imbue us with the same nervousness and anxiety — some might say we did not have the luxury of expecting and preparing for them, only feeling great sadness afterward — also, they happened far away, and not to us, as things do every day. But…they happened, and people died.

Which, thank goodness, is not the case yesterday with those planes. Certainly, we should all keep hoping that nothing terrible does happen, and keep reporting things that are legitimately suspicious — in a time of nervousness, it’s better to err on the side of caution, keeping in mind that caution does not mean sensationalizing, creating panic, retweeting things without confirmation (unless explicitly explained, especially if you’re a news organization), or trying to have sex on a plane on 9/11.

But as much as the fear feels the same, realize that we are different now. Knowledge has changed us, and, while naysayers may say that we’re all just paranoid or worried about nothing — or, even, made to feel worried for political or manipulative reasons — when we reasonably anticipate the possibility that these things may happen, and make efforts to prevent them from doing so, and still live our lives, we are so much farther along than we were 10 years ago. We can’t change what happened then, but maybe this is something small to feel a little bit okay about. Those fighter jets were in the air pretty damn fast, after all.