"Who You Are Is Where You Were When"
~ Morris Massey
Washington DC - The quotation refers to the events that define you and your generation—life and history altering episodes that are the benchmarks for memory and the iron pole around which your future swingsand conditions your thinking. For my parents, it was Pearl Harbor. For me, it was the JFK assassination. For my children (and for me again), it has been 9/11.
Where were you when you heard about…?
My wife and I were in California, firing up our computer in early morning Pacific Coast Time,when we saw that a plane had hit one of the Trade Towers. Our first thought was tragic accident, akin to the 1945 incident in which a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State building. But then the 9/11 story, became much, much more. Later we heard that one of our daughters was still attempting to get to work, clambering over fire hoses and circling police barricades, when the second plane hit the second tower. Then she decided that even Jones work ethic might be set aside for the day. She was walking north toward her apartment when the towers collapsed; our family was lucky.
Memory burns brightly—but also fades. It was years before I no longer awakened in the morning with the image of burning towers the first thought in my mind. Now it is more sporadic—intermittent—but never a day passes without me remembering. Nor does my desire for revenge slacken; I am a better hater than a forgiver. It will not be until every last member of the al-Qaeda movement associated with 9/11 has been “brought to justice” that the page can be turned. Bin Laden is just another name on the long list.
It is unfortunate that the exercises in remembrance on September 11, 2011 have been so politicized. We have remembered each of the 9/11 events differently and wrangled endlessly over the process. With military efficiency, the memorial of remembrance for the strike against the Pentagon was opened on September 11, 2008; the gravesite of the most senior military officer killed in the attack overlooks the Pentagon from Arlington National Cemetery. On the other hand, the memorial to Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA was dedicated but remains unfinished. Here passengers fought back against the terrorists seeking to crash the Capitol or the White House dying in the process (“Let’s Roll” was their battle cry) but limiting the tragedy to a local meadow.
It has been, however, the extended effort to memorialize appropriately the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York that has generated the most passion and controversy. There was a massive fund raising effort; $350 million was raised by 2008. One can anticipate at least $500 million to cover final construction of a museum to complement the memorial officially dedicatedon September 11. The NYC mayor declined to invite religious figures and “first responders” to the formal ceremony (they met separately)—so another dram of bitterness was added to the witches’ brew associated with remembrance.
We were traveling on 9/11—and the tour group made no announcement regarding the event—but some televised snippets were locally broadcast. It left for me the sense that we have the national ability to overdo everything—grief mongering being one of our latest affectations.
There could have been another approach. In the Place de la Concorde in Paris there are statues representing prominent cities. When Alsace-Lorraine <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alsace-Lorraine> was lost to Germany after the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, the Strasbourg statue was covered in black mourning crepe on state occasions. This practice did not end until France regained the region following World War I—almost 50 years later. The French attitude was “speak of it never; remember it always.”
For me, grim resolution trumps mawkish sentimentality.