When Phil first asked if I’d consider writing a post about September 11th, I admit I was at a bit of a loss. What would I write about? It’s at best an emotional subject for all of us, and something that’s hard to frame in the context of America as a whole.
On the one hand it’s similar to the moon landing or the invasion of Normandy — a milestone event that forever changed both history and the lives of those who lived through it. And yet, did those people realize at that time the impact of the events that were going on around them? Have we, fourteen years later, come to understand the impact it’s had on our lives, both then and now, and in the future? It’s a question I’ve asked myself, and as a result I’d like to share my thoughts with you.
Thoughts about the Past
There were no words, no comprehension, just a kind of numb disbelief.
I was riding a commuter train into work, huddled with others around someone who had a portable TV set (a handheld model with a big pull-out antenna; smartphones and 4G data service didn’t exist yet). We watched in horror as the twin towers, already aflame, collapsed. It was surreal, in that “so far beyond the bounds of expected reality we don’t know how to react” kind of way. There were no words, no comprehension, just a kind of numb disbelief. Shortly after the train arrived everyone piled back on and went home because big office buildings in other cities like Los Angeles were being evacuated for safety. Like everyone else, I spent the rest of the day glued to the television set as the aftermath unfolded.
Even years later, if the subject came up people would recount their story. It’s a kind of subconscious catharsis for what I believe to be a permanent scar on the psyche of everyone in America. A way to process and relate what each person had experienced and internalized about that time. (In case you hadn’t noticed, I did just that.)
Thoughts about the Present
In the aftermath grief turned to anger and fear, a lot happened that would have long term consequences. We went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq. We reorganized the entire US federal intelligence and national security infrastructure. We overhauled the rules and security procedures relating to air travel. The echoes of those decisions still live with us today, even though we’ve become accustomed to them.
Watching movies and TV shows from the 80’s and 90’s can be a bit of a culture shock if it involves air travel; people used to be able to greet arriving loved ones at the gate, and see them off. There were no body scanners nor scores of TSA agents in bright blue uniforms back then.
We see the darker side of the increased efforts in security as well. Government overreaches, privacy violations, questions of effectiveness, etc., all remind us that we still bear a responsibility to reign in and direct those we’ve chosen to oversee our national security. That alone is difficult for two reasons:
- There’s so much in our culture to appeal, distract, and occupy our time and attention, and a lot of it is far more entertaining and enjoyable than dealing with our government.
- Having to acknowledge and address issues of national security remind us all of that scar we still bear on our psyche, and that’s something we’d all rather soon forget.
Thoughts about the Future
Here’s a fun fact: Most of the teenagers who just started their freshman year in high school were born after the September 11th attack.
From this point forward anyone turning eighteen (the age of legal adulthood) will have little if any memory of what happened, what the world was like before, or how it was affected by it. They see it as history; something to learn about and remember like the World Wars or the American Revolution.
Yet there is something special about this time and this day because those of us who lived it can recount our stories. They can learn about the sorrow and grief as well as the amazing courage and bravery. We can share with them our mourning and encourage them with our determination. They can learn about evil of men, and the good of men. A believers, it is important we acknowledge both sides of humanity.
As we observe Patriot Day this year, let us embrace this opportunity to share and to remember. For in doing so we will truly honor those who were lost.
Originally posted 2015-09-11 08:00:04.