Yesterday was 9/11, and I was surprised and saddened when the question was raised in our office, “Should we post on social media about 9/11? And if so, what should we say?” Why would there even be a question as to whether or not that tragic day should live in infamy?
I don’t ever want to forget. I don’t ever want my children or the country or the world to forget. Yet it is a very real possibility that 9/11 will lose its impact, even if it is not forgotten. We are nearly a generation away from that day, and some people in this country are revising these and other historical events and forgetting about the social and geopolitical context of the world at the time.
Sadly, I can see how easily the memory of 9/11 can fade when I realize that I don’t have the same passion for Pearl Harbor Day or D-Day that my parents do—I did not experience those events directly. Even more disturbing—many years ago, I remember meeting someone who was my age from the Midwest who had little understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust. She wasn’t anti-Semitic…she simply didn’t grow up, as I did, with the Holocaust as part of her world. And frankly, my own intensity is not the same as the people I know who had to flee from Hitler or who lost family members.
I asked my younger daughter, Jackie, who was three in 2001, about her memory of 9/11. On an emotional level…she remembered very little. That is not surprising given her age at the time. But she does remember seeing the plane crash into the Towers and watching the buildings fall—she was hiding under a bed when I was watching those massive structures that I had been in many times disintegrate before my eyes. Sometime later—either that day or in the days following 9/11—I remember Jackie miming what she saw as she raised two fingers on one hand and “crashed” her other finger into them. Fascinating the way in which a child’s mind works.
But even though she remembers little from the actual day, she, like many New Yorkers, continues to feel the resulting fear and anxiety. With every low-flying plane and every loud noise, there is a feeling of emotional déjà vu. And every crisp, clear fall morning comes with a feeling of foreboding, rather than joy as my mind flashes back to watching the smoke clouds in lower Manhattan from the Connecticut shoreline 60 miles away.
And my family continues to be on high alert for unusual behaviors every time we are in New York City—such as when there are more police than usual at Grand Central Terminal or when the subway stops for “police activity at a station up ahead.” My daughter didn’t feel it when she was younger, but she feels it every day now when she commutes to her office in lower Manhattan, just blocks from Ground Zero.
I remember being terrified in the days and weeks following 9/11. My husband and I were both working at home that day. Amazingly, many thousands of others similarly were not in the office early that day, as the death toll in the Twin Towers was “only” 2,753 whereas 50,000 people worked there and 200,000 visited each day. Many of those 50,000 lived in our and neighboring towns. When we saw the Towers fall, my husband and I went to our older daughter’s elementary school to see if we could help, assuming that there would be mothers and fathers who would not return home that night. But it was too early. No one knew anything yet. Later there would be thousands of stories about people who, for one reason or another, were not in the Towers that morning—a missed train, a parent-teacher conference or a long line at the coffee shop. Hundreds of thousands of “near misses”—but 2,977 “direct hits” in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC
As though the airplane attacks weren’t bad enough, just a week later letters were mailed with poisonous anthrax to media companies and US senators. Chatter about all sorts of vulnerabilities started—besides bombs, airplane attacks and letters mailed with poison, there was talk of damage to water systems, electrical grids and computer systems. Since then, we have all witnessed or lived through far too many domestic terrorist attacks in schools, arenas, shopping malls and our streets. Americans have had to learn to live with a new reality—we are not a safe haven, and we must be vigilant to threats of all kinds. If you see something, say something has become a mantra that every young child knows.
I must acknowledge that whatever I feel…whatever I fear…is nothing compared with those who were in New York City or on a plane or at the Pentagon on 9/11 and in the days and weeks and months afterward. The people who lost loved ones…the first responders…the cleanup crews. Every single person who was in New York City that day who ran from plumes of smoke and dust and who were stranded with no way to contact loved ones were in the midst of a whole new reality for our city and our country. There are new levels of security screenings in airports and post offices, but no matter how many screening procedures we put in place, we won’t be able to close all the gaps and guarantee that we won’t be attacked again. That world as we knew it is forever gone, and it is a tragic shame.
Our country was invaded on 9/11 by those who hate us and don’t believe in the legitimacy of our system of democracy that offers freedom of speech and thought and choice to everyone who chooses to follow our rules and be part of our system.
No, we should never forget, lest history repeat itself.