Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nine years of memories

It is rather difficult to comprehend that 9/11 was nine years ago. In some ways the moments are fresh in my mind and I can explain where I was when I heard the news, when I watched the second plane hit the tower and when the towers fell. In other ways the events have dulled. Time dilutes memories and nine years is a long time. That day may seem like only yesterday but for me at least it is literally a quarter of a lifetime ago.

That might explain why I was so fascinated by what MSNBC and the History Channel showed yesterday. Fascinated isn’t the right word. That would imply some sense of joy or excitement and the exact opposite is true. My mood was somber reflection the entire time. What I watched on MSNBC was the original live NBC coverage of the event. I turned it on yesterday at the point after the towers came down and it forced me to remember those moments in the morning where we all seemed to be trying to get a grip on what was happening. There was a sense that the attack had ended but that no one had a clue as to the number of lives lost or what to do next. Watching it though you see immediately that Osama Bin Laden was mentioned as the main suspect and the Afghanistan region mentioned as an area of focus. In some ways the initial analysis, despite the epic confusion, was spot on.

What the History Channel showed could only be called sobering and brutal and maybe the most important program that I have watched in years. It was a collection, roughly in real time, of footage from people in New York of the events that morning. No narration, no explanation, just the footage from regular citizens who woke up that morning to hell. It may have been the most telling proof of the brutality of that day that I have ever seen.

As Americans we have seemed to have made a conscious choice to not reflect on the sheer horror of that day. We do not replay the footage without editing and in many ways have turned it into a historical event in the distant past. There is a good reason for this as we have sympathy for the families of the victims and do not wish for them to be confronted by the images that constantly haunt them. However, by not seeing these images we become numb to the events and our reaction to that day become filtered through politics.

That is what makes the raw footage so sombering and unforgettable. There is the terror of the day: the screams as the planes hit and the towers fell, the reaction to those who saw people jump from the buildings. But there is also the fact that as you watch it you see an entire city gather together to help one another. There are the firefighters charging into a building knowing that they might not make it back out. There are people handing over cell phones so that someone can call a loved one or handing water to those who were outside when the buildings collapsed. The images of the emptying of Lower Manhattan are not one of panic. It is one of people of every color and creed moving away from danger and helping each other in the process. There was no politics in that moment. It was simply humanity.

I hope to never have to witness anything like I saw on that day, even if all I saw were images on a television set as I sat comfortably in Indiana. I hope that we are able to stop all extremists who harm innocent civilians in the misguided belief that it will promote their cause. But most of all I wish that we can remember who we were as a nation that afternoon. A nation united outside of politics, outside of divisions. Because while we witnessed that morning was terror what we witnessed that afternoon was unity.

The five random CDs for the week:
1) U2 “War”
2) Paul Simon “Graceland”
3) Lyle Lovett “My Baby Don’t Tolerate”
4) The Ditty Bops “Pack Rat”
5) Various Artists “Garden State”

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