Wednesday, September 7, 2011

We shall not forget, at least not yet.

People may correctly remember the events of twenty years ago (a remarkable feat), but who remembers his fears, his disgusts, his tone of voice? It is like trying to bring back the weather of that time.
-Martha Gellhorn

Hereafter (World Trade Center), NYC [Film Scan]

It's not a date which will live in infamy; that title belongs to December 7th, 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor.  September 11th, 2001 is the current generation's date that will live in infamy.  We Will Not Forget is the motto for the attack.  I remember where I was, the sun pouring through the curtains in my bedroom as I lay next to my sweetly sleeping baby.  I remember the news that shattered my peaceful morning.  I remember the person I talked to, and the shocking disbelief that was on every TV channel.  I was fortunate to have that new-mother-fogginess to dull the panic and fear. 

Prior to 9/11 Americans kind of lived like teenagers who have no sense of their own mortality.  It was a shock to find that we were not invincible.  By 2001, the World Wars were but a memory of some chapters in history class.  We hadn't lived it.  The Korean War was something we had experienced on TV with the show M*A*S*H.  The Vietnam war was bit fresher on our minds, but us gen-Xers were babies and many of us weren't born yet when our fathers were shipped off to the other side of the world.  It had been ten years since the Gulf War.  All of these events took place elsewhere.  We hadn't had that kind of in-your-face destruction on our own turf.  Sure, the World Trade Center had been the victim of a car bomb in 1993, and we had lived through the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.  We should have known we weren't invulnerable.  But, like teenagers who have seen their friends succumb to tragedy, we forgot.  Things like that can't happen to us, they happen to other people, not us. 

So, now we're up to the 10 year anniversary of the "day we will never forget".  What exactly are we supposed to remember?  Our panic?  Our fear?  The way we all went down and donated blood for those hoped-for survivors?  The shock that there weren't any?  The suspicion we suddenly felt for anyone from the Middle East?  The anger that something like this had happened in our country?  The call out for revenge? 

We want to remember the people who died: the people working in the buildings that fell and the emergency personnel who were trying to get everyone to safety.  I didn't know any of those people.  What I remember are the memorials scattered around the site when I went there the following June:  the pictures of missing loved ones and the tokens of support sent from around the country all spread out along the fence at St. Paul's Chapel.

NYC - St. Paul's Chapel

And We Shall Not Forget.  At least those of us who lived through it won't forget it.  Not exactly, anyway.  We'll remember some things about it and as we go on with our lives we'll lose a little of it to make room in our brains for other things.  Another ten years down the road, there will be even more people who don't remember it except as a history lesson.  It will just be another thing that they've heard about. 

So how do we "Not Forget"?  I suppose the same way we haven't forgotten about WWII.  Lots of books and movies about the people who lived through it.  To hear someone else's story is to bring a little bit of it into your own consciousness.  There will be all kinds of 9/11 anniversary shows on television over the next week.  But, my brain absorbs the stuff I read better than the stuff I sit back and watch on a screen.  Should my children ask about what happened that day, I will tell them my memories of the day, but they will be very different than a lot of other people's memories.  I was in the new-parent-fog, remember? 

I don't expect my children to forget, I expect them to not remember.  We've been to the site.  We've seen the new construction and the memorials to that day in 2001.  We've been to Battery Park and seen The Sphere that was originally in the courtyard between the two towers.  It doesn't mean much to them right now, but they're all still pretty young.  In the future, it will be a piece of history for them. 

Much as "That date which will live in infamy" is just a piece of history to me.  

The Sphere (NYC, May, 2007)

Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you.
-Paul Wilkinson

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