Thursday, June 28, 2007
Do You Remember?
Something occurred to me yesterday. We don’t know what impact 9/11 will have or has had. We won’t know for a while yet. I’m not talking about politics. We’ve seen 9/11’s direct impact in the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. We’ve seen it in the USA Patriot Act. We saw it in the 2004 Presidential election and we’re seeing it again in the run-up to November 2008. But try as they might, politicians cannot define 9/11. We heard the instapundits tell us that the world would never be the same after 9/11. We were told that the world had changed in an instant, that generations would be defined according to how they were before and after that terrible morning. And yet many of us, I daresay most of us, have moved on, have made either a conscious or an unconscious decision to not let that one morning define our lives. They tried, but the pundits could not define 9/11. Historians will look back on 9/11 and try to understand it. They will watch archived news footage, read transcripts of interviews, and then look at the subsequent events to determine what to do with that morning. But as one who has struggled to understand the past, I know all too well that historians can only guess. Historians will argue, but will be unable to define 9/11. Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet’s Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible starts, appropriately, with Genesis. From there it moves to a Sunday morning service at an Episcopalian church just down the street from Ground Zero. It travels, in a page, from the beginning of time to the end of an age. As I read, I was reminded of the first chapter of Lawrence Weschler’s Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences. It, too, took us back to Ground Zero, comparing the images from that day and the weeks and months that followed to our societal and cultural memories of things long past. It was, and is, a chapter on Genesis and Revelation, Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End. Only yesterday did I begin to get an inkling of who will define the meaning of September 11th, 2001. It will be the poets and philosophers, not the politicians and the pundits. This process has already started and I hope it will continue. We cannot and should not have that day forever hijacked by the empty rhetoric of politicians, nor should we allow it to be remembered only in the vapid bombast of insta-history. 9/11 does not belong to the Republicans, nor does it belong to CNN. Inasmuch as it belongs to anyone, it belongs to us, to the office workers who died innocently, to the firefighters who died heroically, to all who lost a friend, parent, child, loved one, to each and every person who stood watching a television, powerless to help, hopeless to stop it, aghast and filled with awe as those towers fell and smoke and dust reached up to Heaven. It is our day, individually and collectively. It is a day that belongs to each person, to the country, and to the world. As time passes, we’ll hear more and more from the poets and from the philosophers. They will write the words that tell us what that day meant on a grand scale. From them we will learn to grasp the Genesis that came of Revelation. But even that will be incomplete. Most of the story of 9/11 will never be heard beyond a small, select circle. It will come from the babble of a hundred, a million, a billion voices asking and answering in turn the question, “Where were you?” We’ve heard that question asked and answered by previous generations. It’s that question that defines a generation. “Where were you when you heard Kennedy had been shot?” “Where were you when you heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor?” Where were you on September 11th, 2001? Do you remember? Can you ever forget?