I was watching TV, and I saw the moment when the South Tower collapsed. Or rather I was told the tower had collapsed--it didn't seem any different through the haze of smoke and dust. We drove to school, and I grasped the magnitude of what had happened, really for the first time, when we couldn't get away from it on the radio. I walked into first period wondering if it was something we were going to talk about in class.
I was struck by the differences in the way different teachers dealt with the situation and looking back, how much adults reveal of themselves when they try to introduce or explain tragedy to children. One discussed the emotional parallel to JFK's death and mentioned the need to understand the motive at the beginning of class; one simply turned on the radio and told us it was important for us to "understand what is going on in (our) country." In history, we held an obsessive discussion about the now-imaginary "third plane" which sliced through the two towers after both were "weakened" by the first two impacts. Talk about information compulsion. In science, we were told we were living terrible history--a tragedy that would dwarf Pearl Harbor.
I remember coming home and hearing about how actionable intelligence linking the attack to specific al-Qaeda and Afghan terrorists had already been established. To the grown-ups in the house, it was just another excuse to be cynical--those links were found too late. But to me, it was a sense of pride that we could get on their trails so quickly and a sense that, like in any good video game, the big bad boss would be beaten. Misplaced, maybe. But what are great countries built on, if not sometimes misplaced but always tender pride?
Much has been made of the effect of the attacks on the "children of 9/11." The Millenial generation--kids when the attacks changed our world--grew up to fight in the wars, go to college, and live their lives. Those of us who were still children entered adolescence that day. And when, nearly ten years later, my neighbor in college told me on a Sunday evening about bin Laden's death, his opinion that the decade of 9/11 had come to its psychic end was mine also.
I visited the sacred graveyard for the first time this summer, with some relatives. It was dusty, hot, noisy, and buzzing with construction. It was so bright that the light reflecting off the partially-completed Freedom Tower was nearly blinding. And for some reason that made me happy. To see that much light and sound in a place of darkness and silence was pure glory.
As Peggy Noonan wrote last Friday, you've "got to be loyal to the pain to be loyal to the glory that came out of it." For me, raw memory brings back both. Please feel free to share yours.