David Foster Wallace, in his “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s,” describes a town in the Illinois during and immediately after the attacks of 9-11. Illinois is far away from any of the events that took place on that day, yet, every member of that community felt personally attacked. As soon as the towers fell, American flags rose – and they were everywhere. From huge ones on flagpoles to the little ones given out by the veterans when you give a donation on the street, every house had one. Everyone was paralyzed by the events they saw on the television screen and felt the strongest need to show patriotism.
And this got me thinking, trying to remember what my neighborhood was like during those days. I don’t remember it very well; I was only in third grade. All our teachers told us was that there had been an accident in the city; we all immediately assumed that it was a huge car accident (and the thought of that managed to scare us eight year olds quite a bit). A lot of kids were taken out of school early, but otherwise our day went on as normally as our teachers could manage. And then I remember walking home with my mom when she told me what had really happened.
I live in Brooklyn, New York, I always have. I was able to see the smoke and ash from my bedroom window. The light beam memorial that was fixed not too long after was as bright as the street light outside. I can’t say I remember a lot of houses putting up American flags, but very quickly the ones that you can secure in your car window seemed to become very popular. “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood was constantly played on the radio. The entire mood of the city changed.
Just as the entire town immediately reacted in Wallace’s writing, the entire country did. And these changes still exist. Streets have been renamed after the firemen who lost their lives, memorials are at practically every Church and private school, and Subway security has increased exponentially. And the desire to be fully patriotic is still vibrant, as one of Wallace’s respondents said, we need “to show we’re Americans and not going to going to bow down to anybody.”