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Andrew Nesi | Thursday, October 2, 2008

With 8:41 left in Saturday’s game, an already low-flying-and still descending-wheels-down plane banked over Notre Dame Stadium. I couldn’t help but watch and imagine.

Nothing much was happening on the field. The game paused for a minute or so.

I had the chance to focus on this plane, and the whole scene played out in my head: plane keeps descending over the stadium and Notre Dame and Purdue fans gasp in unison, knowing what’s about to come and helpless to stop it.

This isn’t Titanic, and the band stops playing. Screams, then fire.

On board, passengers call loved ones, then fight. Noble characters straight out of United 93 and Let’s Roll lore. The fly-over military jet from America the Beautiful returns to the air and the President is briefed somewhere, hundreds of miles away. A rush of fire trucks and media, even if the NBC cameras survive.

Like something starring Nicholas Cage and we’re the 80,000 extras, but after this take we’ll never get to collect our $100 appearance fee. The brat and beer turn in my stomach.

And then, James Aldridge rushed left for seven yards and the student section politely applauded. The plane kept going, off to South Bend Regional Airport.

At the time, I didn’t say anything to my friends. Maybe nobody else noticed. Maybe I am just a New Yorker oversensitive to these things. But the next day, I casually floated it to a friend from Washington D.C., who remembered the plane. Every time she sees a plane like that, she told me, she wonders. A friend from Kansas City remembered the plane, too, and said she talked to someone about it during the game. I was not the only one.

A few weeks ago, of course, we recognized the seventh anniversary of Sept. 11. We memorialized the victims by reading their names. The Presidential candidates marched together to place a wreath at Ground Zero. We had a service on campus.

Two years ago, I lit a candle at the Grotto. This year, I bought Fruit Roll-Ups at Martin’s grocery store. The anniversary, like Year Seven in general, passed relatively quietly.

Remembering those who died is a profound, and important, experience. But in addition to remembrance, we need to recognize the meaning of Sept. 11 for those still alive. Sept. 11 turns anything we can imagine into a possibility. It loads films and literature with new meaning, because all are suddenly real. It makes a plane that flies over northwest Indiana a possible bomb.

In the weeks and months after Sept. 11, I expected this sort of reaction. But at the time, I never thought that seven years later, the power would still exist.

It still influences us. It still terrorizes us.

We have to be okay with this. We can’t get rid of it. No matter what we do to protect ourselves, this imagination now does and always will exist.

Often today, to talk about Sept. 11 is talk about the politics of the last seven years. It is to speak about war in Afghanistan and, Iraq. It is to speak about the PATRIOT Act and Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Even bipartisan memorials on the anniversary come loaded with political undertones.

It’s remarkable that Sept. 11 now holds such political potency. This is an enduring national trauma, as the reaction to the plane above Notre Dame Stadium proves. But its mere mention invokes a series of polarized political questions about civil liberties, race, and religion. Even commenting on the politicization of Sept. 11 becomes a partisan statement in itself.

This politicization of Sept. 11 distracts from meaningful policy lessons about which we can all agree: port and border security, emergency response funding, defense spending.

But equally importantly, it comes at the expense of reflection on what Sept. 11 the event actually means for our collective and individual psyches as we move forward. The observation that the terror of Sept. 11 lingers isn’t political. It doesn’t explicitly mean we should or shouldn’t do anything in particular to stop future terror.

But it does mean that we have to recognize that Sept. 11 still directly impacts our daily lives, seven years later. It means that no matter which side prevails in our political debates about civil liberties, we will always live differently.

It means that we don’t need to say, “Never Forget,” because we can’t help but remember every time we’re in an airport or subway or, yes, football stadium.

Andrew Nesi is a senior American Studies major from Fairfield, Conn. His third grade class managed to go through three hamsters in one month at school after the first died of natural causes, the second escaped under the radiator, and an animal-loving friend stepped on the third. In lieu of a fourth hamster, the class got a fish. He can be reached at anesi@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.