Grief, it is said, does not proceed in a straight line.
If you have ever felt significant grief — and, if you haven’t, you are lucky beyond imagination — you know this already. And as a nation reels in response to a round-number anniversary of one of its darkest days, it is as clear as the New York sky was blue on September 11th, 2001, that grief spiderwebs and fans and trickles and flows like the Mississippi, touching all of those it touches differently.
That day is, rightly and wrongly, viewed as one that “changed everything.” It is viewed as galvanizing, even though some of the cleavages in American society would soon split wider than they had been in decades. It is viewed as a solemn day for remembrance and taste, even if nearly every tribute is to buildings that were destroyed first and the thousands of lives lived by people who just happened to work at those buildings ended second, even if those tributes look comically gauche if you stare for more than a second.
These are not right and wrong ways to view this wound and its scarring, just ways of doing so subjectively. My perspective is mine, yours is yours; the Sikh cab driver in New York City who was erroneously called a Muslim — and surely far more charged things — has his own perspective, as does the widow of the cop who charged into danger in an effort to save others from it.
Kansans, then and now, likely do not feel like New Yorkers did and do; New Orleans natives who will see George W. Bush marking today’s anniversary with a speech may scoff at how he is forever linked with good stewardship and strength in the wake of this tragedy first and failure when it came to protecting and relieving in the wake of another extraordinary American tragedy second, at least in some minds.
When Florida and USF take the field just a half-hour from the Air Force base from which Operation Enduring Freedom — and all subsequent operations in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are only just now drawing to a close — was launched, there will be mixed feelings in the stands. There will be mixed feelings from the men on the rosters, some of whom were assuredly not yet born on September 11th, 2001. There will be reverence for moments in the broadcast booth, and then there will be attention on the game being played for the benefit of the schools and television partners who sell advertising space during those broadcasts because the attention of people, and especially young men, is valuable.
If you think that football and tragedy and grief and glory will be impossibly intertwined on this day, hopelessly entangled, I am here to tell you that is valid. And if you think that you’re just watching a game, and that all the other trappings are window dressing, I am here to tell you that, too, is valid. This is a day for feeling however you feel — and acknowledging that it is only you that can uniquely feel that way.
I can hope that what happens on the field makes me happy today. I think it will, because the rancidness of USF’s entire program at the moment strikes me as total and odiferous to the nth degree; even the mostly uninspiring debut of Emory Jones a week ago does not lead me to believe that the Gators will struggle with the Bulls in front of a crowd that is sold-out and sure to be more partisan for Florida than not.
I can hope, too, that this is a good tune-up for Alabama next week, one that Florida emerges from with the full health and brimming confidence it will probably need to keep pace with college football’s one true juggernaut.
And I can hope that whatever expressions of patriotism today brings — on Florida’s helmets and Dan Mullen’s shoes, for two — are prideful and reverent more than they are jingoistic and revanchist. But I fear that I know better.
Mostly, though, I want to get through this day and get to the other side — if there is one.
We don’t seem to be good at breaking through to other sides right now.
The estimated 670,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 over the time that has passed since — to pick another day on which it felt like “everything changed” — March 11 of last year averages out to about 1,220 deaths per day.
The average implies that over every three days for an unbroken period of 18 months, more Americans have died of complications from a virus — an enemy that we cannot declare war on or invade — than died on September 11th, 2001.
And, of course, the average is misleading: Some days have been far lighter, at the beginning of the pandemic or during ebb tides when people were more cautious — and it is a grim, sad truth that more Americans have died on many days during this pandemic than were killed on that terrible Tuesday 20 years ago.
Maybe most tragically, the easiest way to prevent this ongoing death and suffering is one that tens of millions of Americans are resisting so strenuously that there are protests in the street. Imagine protesting against efforts to stop 9/11, and you might get a sense of how deeply illogical this is — if, that is, we are all working from the assumption that all American lives are valuable, and that no American deserves to die by incineration in a terrorist attack just as much as no American deserves to die with lungs failing irreversibly, cut off from all of those they love, surrounded by masked medical professionals who have been triaging patients with this dread disease for over a year.
I’d love to believe that we still believe that. Increasingly, it feels like we never did.
I thank you, if you read all this, for indulging me in my musings — and I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t, on this day, indulge too heavily in nostalgia. That nostalgia, to me, seems like pining for a time when tragedy inspired us to at least aspire to noble ideals as I live through a time when tragedy is just endless tragedy, prolonged by too many of my fellow Americans at the expense of far too many of my fellow Americans.
If all that was hollow back then, the present day’s lack of passion akin to it is harrowing.
Here are 10 predictions for Florida’s meeting with USF:
- Florida will score on its first offensive drive.
- Emory Jones will throw for over 200 yards.
- Anthony Richardson will account for over 100 yards.
- Malik Davis will score at least one touchdown.
- Florida’s offense will tally over 500 yards of total offense.
- Florida’s defense will tally fewer than five sacks.
- Zachary Carter will have at least one sack.
- At least one Florida defensive back will make an interception.
- Florida will allow 10 or fewer points.
- Florida 48, USF 7.