Remembering, again, 9/11

Sep. 10, 2013 @ 05:24 PM

A dozen years have passed since one of the most shocking days in recent United States history.

A dozen years is but a moment in history, but enough time to create a discernible distance in our lives and our memories. Most young men and women beginning their senior year in high school have no direct recollection of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, meaning we soon will have a generation coming of age that did not witness those stunning hours.

For them, the assault on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon will be the stuff of old photos, newspaper and magazine articles, books and websites, just as the bombing of Pearl Harbor is for nearly all of us today – or as the sinking of the Lusitania or the bread lines of the Great Depression.

But for most of us, the images remain of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, the heroic sight of firefighters climbing stairs to their death as office workers fled down them, the crumbling of first one, then the other of its towers, the panicked flight of thousands through the streets of New York, the grief and fear and anguish on faces, the carnage at the Pentagon, the wreckage in the Pennsylvania countryside.

We remember where we were the moment we learned of those attacks the way people remembered where they were when President Kennedy was shot, when the Challenger exploded, when news came of victory in World War II.

Normality has long since returned – except when we realize it hasn’t. The president may have urged us, wisely, to move beyond a permanent “war on terror,” but the reminders are constant if barely perceptible because they are so ingrained.

We endure long security lines and take off our shoes to board a plane. We realize the government is keeping an eye – and an ear – on us in ways unthinkable 13 years ago.  We wearily watch one war stagger to a close, struggle with the impact of another on the country and on thousands of men and women who fought it. Our fatigue from those wars colors our judgment of how to respond to Syria’s gassing of its own citizens.

And, of course, for all those who grieve family, friends or colleagues who perished on Sept. 11 or in the wars we undertook to avenge that day, parts of their lives will never be completely the same. Time dulls but does not eliminate the pain of those deaths.

However we feel about the prospect of war in Syria, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the security apparatus that engulfs us, perhaps the best way to mark this anniversary is to think not about our differences over those and other issues, but to honor the memory of those who perished and reflect on the national resilience that saw us through that terrible day and its aftermath.