Every year, I am surprised by how long it’s been since the attack on the World Trade Center. I was in eleventh grade; old enough to remember and to debate world issues concerning the attack. Distant enough to feel only tangentially connected to the individuals and families who were personally torn apart by the explosions. As high schoolers we were melodramatic, talking about how this event would define our generation, wondering how our world would ever be the same.
I could not have told you ten years in the future that traveling by airplane would mean stripping yourself substantially of human dignity: walking barefoot through metal detectors, sipping the last drops of water before going without, submitting yourself to personal search of body and property, having your body scanned through your clothes, your limbs (and sometimes more) frisked, your neatly-packed bag rifled through inch-by-inch, the order of it all blown to pieces, only to be told, “That’s it. You may repack now.”
I would not have known the next decade would bring ongoing war, although I might have guessed. Retaliation seemed the only course of action at the time, after 3,000 of our civilians were publicly and prominently murdered in an act of terrorism. Naturally, our country rallied and cried out for justice. We never knew we were asking for a decade without peace (which is actually not what we asked for, but it’s what we got), even though for me the war was often “out there,” much like the initial attack. I felt it in the anxious looks of children who didn’t know peace, with my friends as wives who waited patiently for their husbands away on deployment.
Finally, I would have been shocked to see, in my telescope into the future, the blase attitude of America today, twelve years later. Nothing on the radio. No news about it in my email news report. A single black ribbon as a reminder on Google, unlinked, unnoticed. I should have known; it is the nature of humankind to forget and adapt. It’s protective, fortunate, that we do not carry with us daily the sting of fresh wounds. But I guess, I don’t know… I’m nostalgic in pieces. Every Halloween, Justin and I like to think back and remember every Halloween we’ve had together. On birthdays, I like to try and remember every birthday past (I can’t, by the way, even remember all my birthdays since turning 21, which I believe is a sign of going senile early. More on that topic later.) You get the idea.
So every September 11th, I take stock of the September elevenths gone by and I wonder at the fade into memory. Where do experiences go? They linger in dim, shadowy places, only the full color photographs remind us of the reality that once was, pleasant or harsh as it might have been. Only snatches of emotions, a look, an angled shot, are ours to keep forever, the rest slowly fades away. It’s inevitable, I suppose… as long as the lesson is not forgotten. We can call it back in times when we are in danger of suffering the same mistake again.
(p.s. I google-searched “shadows of the mind” looking for a black-and-white picture of a mind shrouded in fog, or something, but all I found were images of a b-rated sci fi film. Sigh.)