I received a document to sign at work. I reviewed it carefully for accuracy before proceeding to sign my name with today’s date – 9/11/17. “shit” I thought. “It’s 9/11.” Yes, it’s 16th anniversary of the date that would forever be etched in history, just as various other tragedies that changed the trajectory of American politics, and American lives. But I forgot it. It seems I’m not the only one.
A peak at my Facebook feed, and only a few mentions of this date. To be fair, just because it’s on Facebook doesn’t mean no one is thinking about it. However, in a day and age where social media is the first place people turn to share their thoughts, it seems like a rational conclusion. Maybe it was Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katya pounding the Florida coast – the images of damage and rising waters on TV. These are, after all, are the most consequential events happening in America right now. Still, it seems like 9/11 just isn’t that much on anyone’s mind anymore.
16 years is a long time. Kids born around 9/11 are now coming of age at in their late teens. They don’t remember what happened. Their parents, unless they were in NY or Washington at the time, probably were only affected in flight delays, TV images and a sense of unified patriotism that followed. That’s not to say that anyone outside of NY or DC didn’t understand the gravity of the event. However, as people who were on-the-ground told me, it’s different when you’re there. When you have to walk through the ash of your city, the dust of your friends burned alive, and wonder whether or not you yourself are on earth, or in hell. The first-hand experience surely was more powerful than anything else. For those people it’s a hard event to fade from their minds. For the rest of us, time creates more distance.
At this point, the average person has a higher chance of knowing someone who died or was crippled in one the wars that followed 9/11 as opposed to the event itself. This makes sense. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been steadily producing casualties for almost two decades. Veterans continue to come home with debilitating injuries, local civilian populations continue to die in still-war-torn regions. All this with scarce mention in the news. It’s as if we’ve all become desensitized to it. I know I have.
I regularly read the news. So even when the once-in-a-while story is written out about the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I usually read it. My reaction is dull. “Ugh, here we go again”. It’s followed by a brief reflection – usually a small amount of anger, followed by disappointment. Then I move on to the next story. It’s become part of a routine for me. Part of reading the news. Another article. More words on a screen. It isn’t real to me anymore, and therein lies the problem.
I’m glad my son doesn’t know the horror yet. I’m glad none of the children in my family do – my brothers, cousins, sister-in-law’s kids. To them it’s all words in a textbook at best. And part of me is glad it’s that way. I don’t ever want them to know, or even understand the terror. Much like I imagine those who lived through WWII felt in the ‘60s. It was the era of piece, love and rebellion. Doubtful that many hippies ever thought of WWII in their daily lives. But the more we become removed from an event, the more likely we are to lose the lessons learned, or at least understand the harsh reality that lies outside our borders, and how close we are to it affecting us every day.
Today I realized, that I am now one of the people losing that perspective.