Starting probably about seven years ago, I wondered what today, and next year’s anniversary, and the ten-year anniversary would feel like. Shortly after the attacks, there was one of those inevitable bad-taste jokes in which, far in the future, a father and a son visit the memorial in Lower Manhattan. “Dad, what’s a Twin Tower?” the son asks. “They were two giant buildings filled with people that the Arabs knocked down,” the father replies. The boy tries to understand the answer. “Dad, what are Arabs?”
(I’m sure CAIR is readying its boycott over those words, or preparing a PSA that repeating angry jokes from that traumatic autumn is the moral equivalent of ethnic cleansing.)
September 11, 2002, was a jittery day – I remember telling a cop about an unattended backpack in a Metro station, and attending memorial services in Northern Virginia. A few months earlier, somebody shot up the El Al counter at LAX in an event the FBI helpfully insisted was not terrorism. In January of that year, some troubled teen crashed a small plane into a Tampa skyscraper, in another event we were reassured wasn’t terrorism. It’s very easy to forget about these smaller events, but for a long time after 9/11, you woke up every morning with the sense of “What the hell is coming next today?”
But over time, we stopped feeling that way. I wondered whether our generation would become like the World War II vets who grumbled that Pearl Harbor Day became increasingly ignored year by year. Would the date always hold that power? As time went by, and a generation died off, and a new generation took its place, would the events and the date so indelibly imprinted in our consciousness become distant and abstract, the way the battle against the Axis Powers became to postwar generations?
The Post has a story about children who were born after 9/11, who now learn about the events in school. It’s rather unbelievable to think there are little moppets walking around, who don’t have any memories of that day, who didn’t find themselves stunned, horrified, angry, who don’t find those three numbers trigger a wave of memories almost every time.
I’m a dad now – two years and two days ago today – and I felt great relief upon learning that the second week of September would mark more than 9/11; I have a happy memory, and a celebration with a happy boy, for the rest of my life. He isn’t aware of the date’s significance, yet, obviously, and I dread that day. Innocence is so rare and so precious that you want to put it in a museum under secure glass. And the day that he asks, where do you begin?