Today’s date is rather inescapable, as are all dates in the calendar really. But, I am of the generation that came of age, was just on the cusp of reasoning and reckoning the world and our place in it, when mass chaos and terror and death exploded in a small corner of the world.
My experience of the day was uncommon in America, for which I am grateful. For me, always, when this day appears on the horizon of my September calendar, I am taken back to a golden day on a small lake in the Adirondack mountains, to the life in the woods some friends and I were attempting at the time. We could get NPR at the yurt village, but no television could be canoed across the late, and it would have sapped the power of our solar panels anyway. When the slogans and stickers and flag decals say “Never Forget, ” I always smile a little. What I knew that day was too rich and sweet to be torn down, and I find strength and sanity in remembering that time.
The writer Phil Condon, who I was fortunate to work with in graduate school, has a book of short stories titled “Nine Ten Again.” In the title story, one character says to another, “it’s never gonna be nine ten again.”
This is true. We’re never going back to what was before. What truly changed on that morning twelve years ago was that the myth of American invincibility came tumbling down. In some ways, we could have begun to understand the fear and violence and uncertainty that so much of the world lives with, daily. We could have responded to the shifting world with the same grace and humility and brave heading into the unknown as firefighters and rescue workers. I wish that we had.
I am saddened by the deaths of innocents that day, and in the months and years that followed as rescue workers became sick due to their overexposure to the toxins in our building supplies. But I am, in reality, no sadder over these American dead than I am over the soldiers who died in the ensuing wars, in no deeper mourning than I am over Syrian or Iraqi or Afghani or Newtown or Palestine or climate refugees or any of the other thousands of terrible and violent ways that innocent people die everyday on this planet.
My Facebook feed has been peppered with people expressing surprise that teenagers and college students have no solid memories of September 11, 2001. Aside from my worry at these kids coming into a world that is fraught and criss-crossed with fear and trammeled freedoms, I think that their general oblivion is a good sign. The world did not stop on that day because of the events in two cities and one field. I can attest to this—the leaves continued to change that fall, the eagles flew in and out of their nest on the lake, and the world churned beautifully on. Those small events put all the American-human terror and drama into perspective.
We cannot go backwards, we cannot rebuild the world to what it was, to the pseudo-blindness of before September 11, 2001. It is, however, always and forever, September 12. Every day is a new opportunity to make the world better, to respond and rebuild and evolve with grace and humility. Let us.