Remembering September 11

Brookline Tab, November 2002

Remembering September 11. On that day, after spending the morning watching the news in horrified disbelief, I went to a friend’s house to talk about nothing in particular. We ended up standing outside, watching the sky. At that point during the day, an airplane was still unaccounted for. “What’s going to happen?” I asked my friend. I remember feeling that everything was suspended, while at the same time, everything, oddly, was going on exactly as it had been. At two o’clock I would have to pick up my son. At four, my oldest would be home. I had to get some potatoes for dinner.

And that is still the case. September 11 has altered us irrevocably, while at the same time, life goes on. By now enough time has passed since September 11 that people are beginning to remember it with a new consciousness than when it first became a raw, open wound. A year since the tragedy. The Twin Towers are vanquished; an open area of unprecedented lonely spaciousness in a most unlikely part of New York now exists where there was once innocent Wall Street commerce. How bitterly ironic, that that was true: Wall Street was innocent, at least in comparison to today. But how else to describe the unconscious, unselfconscious way Wall Street and the rest of us went about our business back then, never dreaming that we would be targeted that way.

We are no longer virgins, the untouched American people, separated by a continent from most of the horrors experienced by the rest of the world. We were bystanders during the Holocaust, until Pearl Harbor pulled us in. We made up for our previous inaction by fighting in Korea and Viet Nam, and later, in Iraq. Occasionally we made forays into other parts of the world to help out, usually to negotiate peace, but it was never all that personal. Until those planes hit us in one of our most vulnerable spots, New York City, we did not understand what people like the Israelis or the Bosnians have lived with on a daily basis for years.

Now we understand. I wish we still didn’t. The paranoid aftermath of September 11, with the heightened safety measures taken by the President in the form of the PATRIOT Act, the overscrutiny of foreigners, or the new department of Homeland Security, sometimes overshadow the good that came: the millions of dollars that have been raised to go to the families of the victims, an amazing display of charity and thoughtfulness. That astounding feat is the phoenix from the ashes, the good that came out of the evil.

Here in Brookline, we did our best to come to grips with life after September 11. We had flags flying from cars, houses, and classroom walls. We experienced a townwide ceremony and tried to make sense of what had happened and to show our solidarity as a town. We began effecting new security policies in schools and around town. We dealt with strangers in our schools in a manner that reflected our newfound sense of alarm and caution, and we then had to learn from that, as well. “A shame,” some say. “A reality,” say others.

Regardless of the verdict on the new security, school opened the next day, then finished, summer came, and then school again. September 11 is upon us, and at the time that I am writing this, I believe it will pass into September 12. We go on; we go to school, to work, to the supermarket, the gym. We are back to running lights and taking loved ones for granted. We even park illegally on the High Holy Days, so that we may more conveniently pick up our stuff at the Butcherie. We travel on airplanes. We go to church, we go off our diets. We watch the President noisily contemplate war with Iraq, and it hardly penetrates.

We are still the same, and thank God. Life went on, the terrorists lost. And yet. We know, we know. It could happen again. It takes our breath away, and we become still with knowing. The void exists in more places than World Trade Center Plaza. The void is within us, where blithe trust in our own invincibility once existed.