Twelve years old. Stumbling downstairs, tired from a restless night after drinking Mountain Dew right before bed. Mom sitting quietly in front of the TV, tells me to be quiet, a small choke in her voice. A clip from an action movie is on, something with a burning skyscraper. The special effects are not convincing.
Two elegant structures, one sleek and aerodynamic, the other tall and resolute, meet in gross union. A stoppable force meets a movable object, and the screaming doubles in volume and terror.
Not a movie, not a recording. It’s live.
It still doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. America gets attacked on a regular basis: Nazis, Russians, aliens, and the like. It will be several months until I think seriously about the matter and realize it has been sixty years since we have been struck where we live.
As the hours go by, I realize that this is important to my parents, and so I make it important to myself as well. I stare and frown and am shocked, and wonder when it will be okay to be happy again.
I didn’t know anyone who was in the towers. I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone who was in the towers. Two degrees of separation is enough to dull the emotional shock waves into tremors.
* * *
I don’t really remember September 11th. Not in the way I feel I should. I hear someone say “9/11” and a frown immediately crosses my face, and I feel somber, but I have to think for a moment before I can remember why. The sadness is like a Pavlovian response to the numbers, not a true reaction.
I think what I remember most is from the day after, Sept. 12: the first time I heard my Dad laugh after the towers fell. It was a light, quiet laugh, but it was a laugh nonetheless. It’s when I realized that things would return to normal, eventually.
And in the years since then, I have thought about it less and less, letting it slide by forgotten some years.
But ten years have passed, and it is on many people’s minds and lips, and so I am thinking about it too. Sometimes I wonder why, though.
We commemorate 9/11, with a reverence and awed respect. Because it has not only victims, but a villain, and is thus a story. But we don’t remember 12/26, or 1/12. Do you?
December 26, 2004 marked an enormous earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. January 12, was the date of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Both of these disasters claimed nearly one hundred times the number of lives as did the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers. Why doesn’t that stick with us? Was our loss really more devastating? Or is it easier to feel the loss of a few thousand Americans like us than the deaths of hundreds of thousands of strange looking people jabbering in some other language that sounds primitive to our foreign ears?
I don’t have an answer, a resolution, some grandiose inspiring expression of goodwill and charity toward everybody, because I don’t think we really need that today. I think we’re perfectly capable of making ourselves feel okay, no matter what part of the world is going to hell. Perhaps what we need is to feel sad for a while, without easy, comforting words.
Mourn the dead, for we do so too seldom.