I wasn’t alive when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I didn’t see the reports of D-Day. I didn’t read about V-E Day in the papers. I wasn’t alive for Kennedy’s assassination, or Dr. King’s. I didn’t see a man walk on the moon.
I don’t remember John Lennon being alive, or the end of the war in Vietnam. I don’t remember the Iran hostage crisis, and only vaguely recall the Berlin Wall falling (it was a very big deal at school). There are a lot of big events in the 20th Century that I only know as history, just details and discussion questions from a textbook.
My oldest son is in Pre-K this year. He was born in 2008. He’s never known a country that wasn’t a little fearful. He also doesn’t know why the world is this way. Not yet. There may be a few words spoken at his school today about the event, but they won’t have any bearing on him now. And next year, or a few from now, when he begins to ask about the things he’s heard, or the tears we cry on this anniversary, they’ll just be details for him. Discussion questions. History.
11 years ago, I was asleep on the couch in my one-bedroom college apartment. My mother woke me up with a phone call and begged me to turn on the television. Something was happening in New York. The World Trade Center had been hit, and reports were saying it was a crashed airplane of all things. How could that have happened? Why would I need to wake up to hear about it?
Then we watched together over the phone as Katie Couric and Matt Lauer noticed the second plane at the same time we did. The crash, the fire, the complete loss of words as you realized your country was under attack. Then the reports from the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Were they connected? How could they not be? Where would they strike next? What could they possibly want? Who were they?
We became a frightened and angry nation that day. Rightfully so, understandably so. We’ve spent the next decade hunting down those responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. And last May, we got…What, exactly?
The man who was most directly responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 men, women and children was killed by American Military forces. It’s closure, certainly. Justice, almost definitely. Revenge? Surely. Even? It doesn’t feel like it. Bin Laden’s goal was to shake and fold the American public. To change us. He succeeded, unequivocally. Is the change permanent? Will we always fear now? Is it impossible in a political climate like ours to reach for the stars again?
I hope not.
There will come a day when Son #1 is ready to hear what happened on 9/11. We’ll talk about the people who died innocently, the rescue workers who died bravely and the men and women onboard a plane, who figured out what was happening and changed their own destinies. We’ll talk too though, about the America I remember. When horrors and wars were just history and discussion questions. When the country wasn’t quite so afraid. We’ll talk about a man that went to the moon, and I hope we’ll talk about the next small step for man, the next giant leap for mankind. 9/11 changed those of us that remember, but let it not be all that we remember.