Events create unity among those who lived through them – a form of collective memory which developsin those with similar or shared experiences. Major historical events create unity on an enormous scale,generating bonds between people whose lives would otherwise never intersect.
Case in point: Very few people remember where they were when I graduated from law school. Every U.S. citizen or resident alien over the age of ten remembers where he or she was the day the World Trade Center towers fell. (And probably many outside the U.S., too.)
I was sleeping. At least, I was at the beginning.
6:00am, PST: the telephone rings. The alarm was set for 6:30. Frustrated and slightly put out, I pick up the phone and hear The Random Sibling’s voice.
It is immediately obvious that something is very, very wrong.
“Are you watching the news?”
“No – what’s going on?”
“Someone just flew an airplane into the World Trade Center.”
“They don’t know. Turn your TV on. It’s unbelievable. The tower is on fire.”
Down the hall to the television – just in time to see flight 175 hit the south tower. Two or three minutes of unremembered conversation with The Random Sibling, and I hang up the telephone in shock.
The Random Spouse is standing behind me, staring at the unreal images on the screen. We are both in shock.
Almost without realizing I’ve moved I find myself on my knees, praying. LORD, pleaseprotect the people in those towers. Please protect my family. Please protect the United States. This morning, we cannot protect ourselves.
Will there be more planes? Is this the beginning of a larger attack?
I pray for my family, here and around the country.
Is it safe to leave the house? Is it safe to stay home?
I pray for my students, heading to the law school where I am supposed to teach later this morning.
What about Yak the Younger, sleeping in the next room?
Ipray about what to tell him when he wakes up.
For the first time in my adult life, I am truly afraid that the people I love may not survive the day.
I don’t know whether to stay home, to go to work or to do something else entirely. Lacking direction, I follow the familiar pattern, hoping the familiarity will somehow distract me froma reality I cannot understand.
Yak the Younger is up and dressed. I normally take him to kindergarten on my way to the law school. As we prepare to leave he asks why The Random Spouse and I are so upset.
“Some bad men flew airplanes into some big buildings this morning. They killed a lot of people.”
He thinks about this for a minute before asking the inevitable question: “Why?”
“We don’t know.”
He thinks again before offering: “They probably didn’t know Jesus.”
“I think that’s probably true. Does that make you afraid?”
He doesn’t even hesitate. “No. Why should I be afraid? All the bad men are dead now.”
We head for the door, and I wish it really was that simple. I see no reason to tell him it might not be over, that there could be more airplanes or that there will always be more bad men.
For this morning it is enough that he, at least, is not afraid.
By the time I reach the law school the first tower has fallen. For the first – and only- time in my teaching career, I hand out my lecture notes and offer a five-minute break before the lecture. Anyone who wishes to leave is excused. Roll will not be called. Only two students leave – both still trying to reach relatives in New York City.
I teach a class for no purpose other than offering my students “something else to do” – a distraction from the as-yet unexplained images on the television screen. By the time class is over the news may have more answers. We hope we will still be there to hear them.
Five years later we have many answers – none of which can erase the memories of the morning of 9-11 – as nothing should. Those who bear the marks of history have a duty toremember – and learn from- its lessons. We no longer consider terrorist attacks a thing which happens “to other people” and not on U.S. soil.
We have become citizens of the larger global community in which people have two choices: to fight injustice or to stand by and do nothing, idly hoping that inactivity will keep them safe.
9/11 wasn’t a misunderstanding. It wasn’t a case of mistaken identity. It wasn’t a fluke. Terrorists kill because it suits their purposes and worldview. They accept only two responses:war and surrender.
I’m not inclined to give them the latter. And based on the responses from the right-hand side of the Internet this morning, I’m pleased to say it looks like the rest of you aren’t, either.
What were you doing on the morning of 9/11/2001? I’m opening this post for anyone discussing, remembering or honoring the fallen and heroes of September 11, 2001. Please link accordingly.
Linking also to the 2,996 Tribute page and to a few individual bloggers honoring the fallen (please take the time to read as many as possible):
- Pet’s Garden Blog honors Scott Powell
- PC Free Zone honors Deputy Fire Chief Raymond Downey
- Third World County honors Robert Edward Patterson(and remembers 9/11)
- The Florida Masochist honors Ken Marino(and remembers 9/11)
- Sister Toldjah honors Peter Edward Mardikian
- (Please link in if you have a memorial post and I will add you to this list.)
Linking to Linkfest Haven to make the OTP known.