As the pictures go up on Facebook et. al. of the towers and we are counseled not to forget, I wonder what it is about us that holds on so strongly. I get that this was important, that the towers were not only physical structures that held the flesh and blood of so many people who lived and loved, were fathers and sons, daughters and mothers, but perhaps more. Perhaps they were the force field that was supposed to signify the divide between us and them and that what shocked us all so much, myself absolutely included, was that the divide was so easily conquered. To some, 9/11 was the day that a war began. To some, it is more personal. To many, it will never end.
There’s a part in us all that likes to take ownership of tragedy. To say, “I was there,” to stake a claim that we feel more than the guy next to us, or across the country from us. It’s a cousin to that original feeling, the one that held us separate, that divided us. I don’t know what you feel. Though I was in Manhattan that day, my ears were turned off to the screams of sirens, my heart to the fall. I was a quiet observer, trekking uptown through swarms of people who smoked in the streets of a midtown packed, like it was a street festival. We looked up and the day tingled with a feeling of something different, new, no school today.
No, it wasn’t until my train peaked through the tunnel and my exodus completed that the sound came rushing back into my ears and I felt. In the safety of my bathroom that night, in a shower that washed the smell of soot from my hair, I felt. I felt terrified. And I felt that the world of foreign policy and boring pages in front of the style section of the New York Times were coming to get me, to shake me into wakefulness, so that I knew that it was real. That people in pictures or who moved across the screen from me in the blue light of the television were actual. That speeches made from the pulpits of politicians held meaning. That legislation was connected to something that could affect even me.
Of course we won’t forget.
But will we remember what we learned?