Eleven years have now passed since the illusion of peace and tranquility was shattered on another clear, blue, Tuesday morning, eleven years in which we’ve stubbornly refused as a nation to learn the lessons that were available to us on that day and instead seem in many ways to have doubled down on the attitudes, actions, and policies that were less than endearing to the parts of the world that usually lie below our range of vision here in America.
I had worked a full night’s shift the previous evening, putting together some story about farming for the front page of the newspaper where I worked at the time. I can remember the photo of a tractor out in the field, spraying water or fertilizer onto green plants, but I don’t remember what the words entailed.
So I missed the first telephone call that morning at my parents’ house, where I still lived at the time. It was the executive editor, calling everyone in to the office early. I heard the phone ringing across the house, vaguely heard the executive editor’s voice, but remained in slumber. Not unlike responses to the early, unheeded warnings that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike within the United States, it occurs to me for the first time. (And maybe that alone should allow me some compassion for the second President Bush … emphasis on “should.”)
The second time the phone rang, it was closer to my time to wake up, and I heard our beleaguered editorial page assistant leaving a message on my parents’ answering machine. “If he’s calling to see who will be laying out their page, I’ll kill him,” I thought or maybe muttered aloud as I flipped over to turn on the television beside my bed and see what time it was; the TV was programmed to turn on to CNN at the appointed hour.
As I blinked the screen into focus, sleep left me. I’m not sure consciousness arrived to replace it – more a dumbfounded numbness.
I’m writing this on the actual anniversary date, Sept. 11, but of course am not sure when it will be posted here at State of Formation. A former co-worker had remarked yesterday that he didn’t seem to be seeing a whole lot of Facebook postings or for that matter national news coverage talking about the anniversary. And while I was of course aware of this anniversary coming up, truth be told, it hadn’t occurred to me to say anything about it.
Here’s what I told my friend Brandon: The commemorations of events such as this seem to follow a pattern. For the first 10 years, the anniversary is probably marked every year. But after a decade, you’re most likely to hear about it on the 15th anniversary and then the 20th … and that pattern of five-year intervals seems natural to play out through at least the 25th anniversary but could go all the way to 50 years after the incident.
By that time, there will be a lot of people who were not alive for the incident, but enough will still be around for maybe every 10 additional years to be counted up through 70 … and then at 75 years, that’s an attractive number. But then you’re likely not to year about it again until a full century has passed since whatever event is being remembered (and, just as likely, misremembered).
You hear about things that happened 100 years ago, 125 years ago, 150 years ago, 175, 200 ... then likely 250, 300, 400, 500, 750, 1000…
The point here is not to practice using the number pad on the right-hand side of my keyboard. Nor is it to minimize the legitimate grief and loss suffered on that day 11 years ago, the ongoing health struggles of first responders whose health care has been shamefully underfunded by the federal government, or the real if distorted and exploited threat posed by actual Islamist extremists (who are not to be mistaken with the average Muslim).
My point is, to put it coldly, to say that we’re small and the world is large; our moments are brief, but the arc of history is long. We hurt each other and seem hell-bent on making the world uninhabitable for ourselves, but the world will endure and life will persist until the sun gobbles this planet up in a few billion years. As a wise man once said, it’s easy to see that individuals’ problems “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
It’s not that our lives don’t matter; to us, as the only comprehensible yardstick by which to measure the universe, they are everything. So, yes, the loss of 3,000-plus lives is important and should be remembered; but no less so, the loss of one life. And when faced with that loss, we have a couple of ways to go: We can wallow in anger and hatred and fear, or we can defiantly live in a way that honors our departed and shames our enemies.
Eleven years have passed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There are fewer mentions of the day on Facebook, at least until someone nudges others to acknowledge it. The nightly news coverage tonight will probably show ceremonies at the World Trade Center site, maybe the Pentagon, less likely in Pennsylvania, and if the president is not at any of the three sites, we’ll probably hear a mention of where he was and what he did.
And I think that is, perhaps, the way it should be. The diminishing coverage is not a sign of disrespect for the dead; it is a sign of healing among the living. If I had died on that day, I would not have wanted my loved ones to give the terrorists the satisfaction of seeing their lives ruined for all time, of seeing this nation be less than itself. We should live, and thrive, and move forward; that’s how we’ll defeat terrorism.
Photo by Smabs Sputzer, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Tennessee native Jason R. Tippitt is pursuing a master of arts in theological studies at Andover Newton Theological School in the Boston area. He is a "religious independent" with an interest in collaborative efforts within, between, and beyond religious communities for the common good. Follow him on Twitter: @TippittJason