I remember almost every detail of what I was doing September 11, 2001, and I probably will for the rest of my life. I remember first hearing about it on the radio on my way to work, and then, inexplicably, the station returned to playing music. I remember the fractured and contradictory reports of that morning, prompting me to worry that there was a coordinated attack all across the country. I remember first seeing the image of the burning towers when I finally managed to access CNN.com. I remember finally getting hold of my mother on the phone - she works in an airport and I didn’t know how extensive the attacks were. I remember the school sending all the students and employees home, so I took my girlfriend home, made her dinner, and we had some of the best sex of my life.

I’ve seen a term coined for this phenomena of people seeking physical solace after such a widespread tragedy: “terror sex”. There’s even speculation that it led to a post-September 11 baby boom. I may as well admit that I participated in that phenomena (the terror sex, not the baby boom thankfully). She was an auburn haired Russian girl, and after a few conversations about constructivist painters and Eudora Welty, I thought she was the most beautiful creature on God’s green earth. What can I say, I’m an intellectual whore. She had me so tightly wrapped around her finger that I couldn’t see how manipulative, selfish, and self-absorbed she was. (Once she decided she didn’t like the shirt she was wearing, so she called her mother up and had her drive to the coffee house we were at to bring her a new shirt. Why this didn’t alarm me at the time I will never know.) I couldn’t see that she was just using me to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. A week later, they were back together and she was gone like the Twin Towers. And it turns out that she wasn’t actually 19 like she told everyone, but, well, you don’t expect me to incriminate myself, do you? (In my defense, she was a college junior fer chrissake, how was I to know she skipped a year or two of high school for early admission.) At the time, I was utterly, utterly devastated, but now I don’t for a moment regret her absence from my life, but I do regret that she will, for the rest of my life, be tangled up in my memories of the events of September 11. But hell, the sex was really, really good. It’s not often (well, in my life, anyway) that one feels like an Olympic gymnast.

So on September 11, 2051, after the flags wave and the parades and speeches end, when my grandchildren get off their hover bikes and sit at my knee and ask me what I was doing on September 11, I wonder if I’ll tell them that I was having fantastic sex with a shallow girl. I do know that I’ll tell them this:

I never charged into a burning building knowing that I might not come out. I never attacked a knife-wielding terrorist on a airborne plane. I never died for something important or to save someone else, or even came close. I was just a man trying to live my life the best that I could and not fuck things up too badly. I was never a hero.

Be careful of those who you call heroes and why you call them that. That fireman who carried someone out of the burning towers may have used that tragedy as a pick-up line to score with a drunk blonde in a New York bar. That cop who bragged about how much overtime pay he was raking in because of the attack may kill a man wielding only a wallet, or he may take a bullet saving your life. People are seldom heroes or villains, they are just people, in all their crass ugliness and transcendent beauty. Be aware of that ambiguity and embrace it.

Don’t take a single day to celebrate the good and use the rest of the year to be as crass and selfish and cynical as you want because you lit a candle today. Don’t celebrate the heroes today and forget tomorrow that you’re only paying them $30,000 a year. Don’t remember a few thousand dead and forget the thousands dying around the world every day of preventable causes. Remember and avenge those who were lost on that day, but spread the veneration and passion and thoughtfulness and respect throughout the rest of your life. Remember the poor children who can’t sleep because of their empty stomachs. Feed the homeless. Donate blood. Write your congressman. Vote.