A man called me with a dilemma. He's been charged with planning his company's end-of-summer barbecue. One date makes sense for all but seems to run afoul of sensibilities: Sept. 11. What to do?
"I actually was a rescue worker up there (at Ground Zero) for two weeks, and I don't have a problem with having" the barbecue on that date, the caller told me. "I said, 'If we don't have it, don't the terrorists still win, because they've taken that day from us?' "
The question, which caught me flat-footed, is interesting.
Nine years removed from Sept. 11, is it appropriate to schedule celebratory events on that date? I remember the issue being raised in 2004, the only other time the anniversary fell on a Saturday. Then, there were reports of wedding planners with little to plan and venues offering big discounts to those willing to tie the knot on a day when few others would.
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An August 2004 story in the New York Times summed up the conundrum, noting that prospective brides and grooms "do not want grief-laden memories of loss and fear dimming the joy and hope that will come with saying 'I do,' running the gantlet of rice-throwing guests, and dancing their first dance as a married couple."
My unscientific survey indicates a change of attitude and an increase in festive activities this year, at least in Philadelphia.
Last week, I called the Union League and was informed that its prestigious Lincoln Hall was booked for a big Sept. 11 wedding reception. So is the Franklin Institute's Franklin Hall, which typically hosts one wedding per weekend. The Pen Ryn Mansion in Bensalem has three events, including a wedding reception, booked for the date. And a friend of mine has received a save-the-date notice for a bat mitzvah then.
One argument is that to avoid the date is to hand the terrorists a victory. If Americans are in shutdown mode nearly a decade removed from that day we will never forget, then our lives have been disrupted, as the enemy hoped.
On the other hand, nearly 3,000 innocents lost their lives that day, and their families and friends are still among us. That causes some to question the propriety of having fun on the anniversary.
One caller to my radio program said we shouldn't allow Sept. 11 to become less meaningful, like Memorial Day or (another noted) the Fourth of July.
They seem to have a point. How many of us paused in May to remember the fallen, and who among us contemplated the birth of our exceptional nation in the midst of the fireworks last weekend?
Left unaddressed, the descent into frivolity is bound to happen. My wife's birthday is Dec. 7. I dare say that her personal milestone is often the only reason that date has significance in our house.
So how should Americans treat the anniversary of a national tragedy? With balance. The country needs to establish a national protocol for recognizing not only the 3,000 who were murdered on Sept. 11, but also the thousands of soldiers killed and wounded in the war against terrorists. The event shouldn't cast a shadow over the whole day, but Americans should be able to count on a solemn, serious commemoration year after year.
And whatever the ceremony is, it should not forgo the footage — horrific as it is — of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. It's a much-needed reminder that is increasingly absent as the years progress.
At the same time, if we were to shut down for every anniversary of a significant loss of American lives, plenty of dates would be off limits.
Like Sept. 17. Does that ring a bell? On that date in 1862, the Battle of Antietam resulted in the deadliest single day in American military history, claiming 23,000 lives. Or April 19, the anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Or Feb. 26, the date of the first attack on the World Trade Center.
Unfortunately, there have been many such days in our nation's history.
On Sept. 11, 2010, resilience shouldn't mean a total retreat to normalcy. Nor, however, should it signal to those who wish us harm that the country's spirit is anything but strong.
Smerconish writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may contact him via the Web at www.mastalk.com.