September 11th. Do you remember where you were on this day twelve years ago? September 11th. It’s a day that punctured our national illusion, and, perhaps, led us to the plain of understanding as regards our corporate identify..
A month ago I spent some time in New York City with two of my granddaughters. The sixteen-year-old was there to participate in a dance workshop. (I’d tell you what dance company she was working with but you’d then accuse me of bragging.) Her younger sister was there to hang out with me. That younger one was only seven months old on that fateful day in September. For her the event is only read in her school history books. It is not something experience, a defining moment. She’s two generations behind me. I wonder how September 11th will impact her.
She has no visual to recall. For her the flames bursting from the towers, the bodies falling, the horrific fall of those buildings upon the firemen, policemen, and civilians within is not personal. As we passed up the Hudson River on our trip around Manhattan, I pointed out a docked fireboat. I told her how the boat, FDNY Boat 342, was give that number in memory of the firemen who died on September 11th. I explained that the boat was made from the steel salvaged from the wreckage. “I’ve read about September, 11th,” she said.
Later that day, on that same boat ride, we looked toward the New York City skyline. The new tower stood there. Beside it was something unusual for New York. Beside it was open space. That open space is, itself, a memorial. How does someone, like my granddaughter with no visual memory of those grand pre-9/11 towers, relate to the silent testimony of that open space?
It seems a bit surreal she’s so removed from that day. It seems surreal because much of the aftermath of that event has defined her life. Because of that day, when she travels with me she has to, even at her age, carry a picture ID. Because of those planes that brought so much horror, death, and tragedy, she’s subjected to being searched when entering a public .building or traveling on an airplane. Every day of her life, even before the day she took her first step, her country has been at war.
So much of the life of my generation and that of my children’s has been impacted by 9/11. So much of the interaction of nations has been complicated by that day. Since that terror attack the world has become more divided, more sectarian, more intransigent in so many ways.
What then will be the lesson I leave my grandchild as I tell her about this event. As I try and explain the reasons the planes came, as I try to relate the reasoning for the response of our nation in invading two countries, it seems to me it is imperative I find some eternal truth the generations who experienced that day can leave to those who come behind us.I think I’ll tell her how the terrorist wanted to destroy the ideals of our nation, ideals we find difficult to live up to. I’ll try and explain how and why the terrorist hate us. And then I’ll tell her that both we and they have learned a lesson. That lesson, I’ll tell her, is: you cannot kill an idea with a bullet.