Here we are 17 years after the most abhorrent act of terrorism perpetrated on the US in my lifetime. Like nearly anyone else on that day, I remember quite well what I was doing. I was living in New Orleans at the time, attending seminary. I was in my ethics class when someone popped into the room and informed us that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane and that classes were being dismissed. I gathered up my things, headed back to our apartment, and turned on the TV. All I remember from that point was sitting and watching in utter disbelief. What in the world was going on?
Growing up in the 80s, there was plenty going on in the world and in the US to be sure, but I was a kid and didn’t really have a sense of the world stage. I do remember rather vividly the Challenger explosion and that it made me rather sad. In fact, anytime I listen to Dire Straits’ “Why Worry,” I’m taken right back to the newscasts that show the shuttle’s final moments and it saddens me all over again.
Everything that happened after that—the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Gulf War, and much else—has found a place in my memory (though only the vaguest of details remain). However, nothing in my lifetime even comes close to what I saw on 9/11. I was more than 1,000 miles away in my apartment watching chaos beget chaos in NYC, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. I was safe in my apartment and yet this tragedy deeply affected me; however, I cannot even begin to think of how this horrible day must have affected the residents of NYC, the families of those who were killed, and the innumerable first responders, physicians, nurses, law enforcement, and others who threw themselves into the fray to save those who could be saved.
Every year on 9/11, I make it a point to think about that nightmare that became reality. I don’t do it because I enjoy tragedy, nor because I think that my doing so will have any effect on anything else. I do it so that I don’t forget. I know that might sound trite and silly, but there is danger is forgetting the past, or sanitizing it, or bundling it up in conspiracies. Forgetting or suppressing history makes one aloof and therefore vulnerable. Maybe not me individually, but us collectively. I don’t want to see the horrors of that day replayed, but neither do I want to forget.
May those who perished rest and may their families and friends find peace.