Three thousand, six hundred fifty days, more or less,depending on leap years – since the end of the 20th century. Oh, I know, calendar-wise, only a year or two off. But we don’t count strictly by the calendar. Afterwards, we count by events. Myself, I have the feeling that the 19th century didn’t truly end for good and all until 1914. That’s when the 20th century began, in the muddy trenches of WW1. All the previous comfortable understandings and optimistic assumptions of the earlier world were shattered right along with three monarchial dynasties, over the course of four years. When it was over, the world of the time before seemed impossibly far removed, to those who could remember it – a number which, as the decades passed, became steadily fewer, until that world was entirely the stuff of books, paintings and relics, rather than true human recollections. We eventually adjusted and accepted the new reality of things. The old way, and the shattering events in which it passed – became a date on a monument, a paragraph in a history text, a book on the shelf.
Being that humans are mostly optimistic and pretty adaptable, we patched together some new understandings and assumptions, which worked pretty well – or at least we became accustomed to them . . . until the 20th century ended on a glorious autumn morning, ten years ago. One day. And then we had to become accustomed to the new reality. More than three thousand dead, a hole in the New York skyline that will never be filled in again – the ghosts of twin silvery towers showing up in the backgrounds of movies, now and again, drawing your sudden attention with a catch at the heart and memory.
And three thousand-something men and women who went off to work one morning, families who took a vacation, catching an early morning airplane flight, firefighters going on shift, everyone living out those thousands of petty daily routines, most of them probably quite boring. I am certain that practically every one of those who became casualties on that morning – a name and a face on a makeshift poster, a black-framed picture on the mantel or in the obituary pages – were looking forward to the end of the workday, the end of their journey – to coming home for a good dinner, wrapping up that business trip and getting on with that portion of our life that is ours, and belongs to us and our families and loved ones alone.
But they were never allowed that luxury, of having a tonight, a tomorrow. Those lives which they might have had, would have – were brutally wrenched from them, in an organized act of terrorism, wrenched from them in fire and horror and blood, while the rest of us watched or listened – watched in person, on television, or were glued to a radio – ten years ago today.
Ten years. Time enough for children to grow to middle-school age, never remembering that time before, barely recalling as childred do, that loss of a father or mother, who worked in a department in the outer ring of the Pentagon, or in an office on a high floor of the World Trade center. A foreign country to them, is that place, where once you could go into the airport terminal and go all the way to the gate to meet an arriving friend . . . and for travelers not to have to take off their shoes to go through security. Or even have to go through security, come to think on it. A world where one could have no reaction but idle curiosity upon noticing a woman in full black burka, or a nervous-appearing man of Middle-eastern appearance, taking pictures of an otherwise undistinguished bridge or power station. A world where a familiarity with the dictates of the Koran and the Hadith, the maunderings of Sayyid Qutb as regards America and the workings of a desert tribal autocracy are an eccentric interest and hobby – not a professional necessity.
Ten years. The world that was passes from memory, and we have the brutal world of ‘now.’ As an amateur historian, one of my own comforts on this anniversary is that – it was always like this. We will survive, we will live in a world that is made new and eternally renewed by events, events that will eventually fade . . .
But today, we remember. We will always remember.