History isn’t written in an instant. We’d like to think so, these days. Best Something EVER, we’ll say about a performance, or a film, or a t-shirt. (More likely, WORST ever, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
In the realm of Instant Gratification and Flash Judgment, fourteen years seems like an eternity.
In the vast majority of the remembrances around 11 September 2001, folks tend to gravitate towards where they were that morning. What they were doing. How they heard. My memories of that time are stronger two weeks later, when I traveled to South Padre Island to meet a group of friends from around the country, on a vacation we planned long before the world changed.
The preceding week, there was a ferry that crashed into a bridge that allowed supplies to be trucked into the island. That, coupled with the lateness of the season and the limited air travel, effectively meant our group of 20 were some of the only tourists on the island. Midway through the week, we piled into one of the only bars that was open to watch George W. Bush deliver an address to a joint session of Congress. He spoke that night of the American resolve, our determination to not be defined by what happened on that day, but what will happen next.
It was almost a foregone conclusion, at that point, that we would be going to war with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The future, past that, was a mystery.
What we knew at that point was the NEVER FORGET drum was being pounded, even then. How could we not? Every single thing we saw was American flags, and honoring those who fell, and the early responders, and that massive fireball, over and over.
There was something else that I saw, and made special note of. We were all walking around in a daze, for weeks. Socked in the face, nose bloodied – sure.
However, we also took the time to remember that we needed to be kind to each other. All of us. Everyone was affected in some small way, and some much, much larger. We held each other a little tighter. Made a point to call loved ones, just to see how they were doing.
Where did that go?
It’s easy to blame technology for making it so much easier to stay inside, stay insulated, not get involved other than clicking a Donate Now! button for our favorite causes. Fine. Selfies are the downfall of America. Or, you can blame reality TV – we’d rather live lives vicariously through families and groups of friends with full camera crews trained on them 24/7, and doesn’t it make you feel better about yourself that you arent so self-absorbed and tragically redneck or posh and bereft of scruples?
Rather, I look at our installed fear of outside, and weep.
Outside. Past our front door, past our front lawn. Neighborhoods exist in name and HOAs alone. Once we rolled up the American flags we bought after the stores re-opened on 12 September, we never bothered to look back down the block only to make sure our lawn was slightly better cared for than the folks living next to us. Past that, the guy living the next street over well, who knows who that is? Might be an illegal alien. Could be a sexual predator. Might be a jihadist. Its better to stay at home, and see who the next American Idol is. Safer.
We’ll never forget what happened on 11 September, but why did we forget about what happened on 12 September? That was the America full of possibilities. Strong. Indivisible. Capable of anything.
That’s what we lost. Thats what we forgot. We didn’t lose it when the World Trade Center towers fell. We lost it when the trillions of paper cuts became too much to bear.