In the search for fitting words, "tsunami" aptly describes the response to my earlier column about what to name the event currently known as 9-11.
I am awash. I am drowning. I am inundated, swamped, overwhelmed by suggestions, commentary and words, words, words. I am also impressed that so many people cared enough to respond so thoughtfully. There is passion among us. My only regret, as the e-mails number in the thousands, is that I did not also request a dollar per submission.
The response has been so great, in fact, that I can't do it justice, which is also apt inasmuch as the overwhelming consensus is that words can't do justice to what happened last September. As one writer, Francis, put it: "A name that evokes the full horror and outrage of the event will remain elusive. There are some tasks too heavy for a mere string of words."
As I read the responses, which continue to trickle in, several consistent themes emerged.
First, many voted to leave 9-11 alone. The fact that the date sounds and looks like our emergency call number 9-1-1 made it all the more fitting for those who like 9-11.
My position was and is that 9-11 is too glib, too abbreviated, too breezy to describe the horror of that day. As Dennis Neal, opinion editor of The Daily News Leader in Staunton, Va., wrote me, we drop by the 7-Eleven for a malt liquor; we work 24/7; such terminology diminishes the events of that day.
I agree. I don't insist that we need something long-winded or studiously contrived, but we might settle on something that at least requires us to move our lips. Thus, even September 11th works just fine. We say July 4th after all, not 7/4. And December 7th for Pearl Harbor, not 12/7.
One writer, Laura, says she refers to 9-11 as simply "The Eleventh," after reading that the surviving employees of Cantor Fitzgerald refer to it that way. "I figure they can call it what they want to."
Agreed. Many others wanted to keep the date but add a descriptive word. Favorites included Terror, Holocaust, Massacre, Butchery, Carnage, Slaughter, Annihilation, Assault and Atrocity, but not Tragedy or Catastrophe. A tragedy is when a school bus goes over a cliff, explained one writer. A catastrophe is a hurricane. An attack resulting in mass murder is something else.
Nearly everyone acknowledged the difficulty posed by almost simultaneous attacks at different locations. It seems unfair to mention only the World Trade Center when people also died at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field. Even so, if I had to quantify the results, the majority would use the New York location in the name. Symbolically, it encapsulates the enormity of the attack. World Trade Center Massacre was mentioned most often.
Other writers focused on heroism, patriotism and leadership in their search for a name. Many suggested some variation of National Heroes Day. Others suggested Freedom Appreciation Day, Remembrance Day and The Awakening.
At least a few mentioned Wake Up Day, as in, the United States needs to clean its own house. Wrote Eric of Chicago: "What the attacks meant is that Americans need to address the needs of the rest of the world and the resentment of many in it toward the United States."
Some were specific: "The Fundamentalist Islamic Terror Attack on America." Others were blunt: "The Day Those Islamofacist Bastards Sealed Their Fate."
To do the list justice, I need 1,000 more words. Instead, suffice it to say that there is a need in America to properly name things, and most of those who wrote prefer something with greater dignity than 9-11. Ultimately, as so many acknowledged, history will name this event, which, sadly, was the beginning of something yet to be determined.
In the meantime, if The Eleventh is good enough for the surviving employees of Cantor Fitzgerald, it's good enough for me.