It can be difficult to know the best way to commemorate Sept. 11, the day of the deadliest terrorist attacks in history. You could get on YouTube and watch the news reels of the attacks or make the day into its own kind of Fourth of July, but the gravity of the event seems to demand something deeper.
There are respects that are necessary to pay, certainly to the heroic first responders who gave their lives to save others and the workers whose offices became war zones in an instant, but also to the survivors and to the soldiers who have fought to prevent another attack from coming to the United States.
In order to fully reflect on the attacks, which lasted for a single morning and yet have changed the course of history, it is important to turn to those who can account for all of the tragedy, the abject violence, the heroism and the trauma of the day itself, as well as the complexity of the wars and the expansion of the government which followed.
From movies to articles to musicals and events, here are a few simple ways to take time out of your day and contend with those attacks that cut through America’s blue skies 20 years ago.
Attend memorial events that honor the fallen
The city of Knoxville and its surrounding towns hold many events that help to remember the fallen heroes of Sept. 11, including the annual first responder stair climb, where 200 Knoxville area first responders will climb the equivalent of 110 stories at the Sunsphere to honor the firefighters who climbed to the top of the burning World Trade Center towers. Mayor Indya Kincannon and U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett will be among the leaders in attendance at the event, which begins at 8 a.m.
On campus, the Young Americans for Freedom student group will continue their annual tradition of planting 2,997 flags in HSS lawn, one for each victim of the attacks. On the morning of Sept. 11, they will hold a memorial service on HSS lawn at 8 a.m. with a chaplain and bagpipe player.
Read articles that capture the complexity of the event and its aftermath
If you look at the homepage of any major news organization right now, there are bound to be numerous well-written articles about the trauma and legacy of 9/11. Here are a few especially noteworthy pieces to get you started.
Columnist Carlos Lozada read 21 books about the lead up to Sept. 11, the day itself and the American military response, all so that you don’t have to. In a Washington Post article, titled “How 9/11 Changed Us,” Lozada argued that 9/11 was a “test” and that “the books of the last two decades show how America failed.”
In an article for Intelligencer titled “The Woman in White,” journalist Colin Moynihan profiles a photographer and his search for a dust-covered survivor he famously photographed on the day of the attacks.
Muslim American novelist Laila Lalami draws a direct line between the human suffering on Sept. 11 and the trauma of the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in her New York Times column titled “To ‘Never Forget’ 9/11, We Must Remember Everything.” “Ordinary people, thousands of miles apart, are suffering for political causes none of them chose,” she argued.
Watch documentaries that center the experiences of the survivors
A spate of new 9/11 documentaries have premiered this year to mark the 20th anniversary, and several take special care to highlight the voices of survivors and the victims’ families who experienced that horrific day at close range.
“9/11: One Day in America” is a six-part documentary from National Geographic, made in partnership with the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. Available for streaming on Hulu, Amazon Prime and Apple TV, the documentary focuses on the attacks at the World Trade Center from the perspective of those on the ground. Lauded by critics, it is designed to be the most immersive and emotionally acute telling of the day.
PBS’s “Generation 9/11,” a intimate new documentary available to stream on the PBS website, tells the story of a very specific group of survivors: the children who lost their fathers before they were even born. It is estimated that 100 expectant fathers were killed on Sept. 11, and this documentary gives a never before seen look at how their children were indelibly affected by a tragedy that happened before they were born.
Stream the Broadway musical “Come From Away”
For a slightly more lighthearted approach to engaging with the heartbreak of 9/11, Apple TV has an exclusive streaming offer. The service has added a live Broadway performance of “Come From Away” to its library. The musical tells the true story of the small town of Gander on Canada’s Newfoundland island, where 6,600 passengers from 42 flights — two thirds of the town’s population — were diverted on Sept. 11.
The story follows the town’s residents as they prepare for an influx of panicked passengers and as they fall in love with a cadre of international strangers with whom they are united in a solemn grief.
Similar to the live Broadway performance of “Hamilton: An American Musical” on Disney+, the film version of the musical offers viewers a chance to gain on-stage access to the musical.