Nine years. 3,285 days. Man, time flies. One of the things that make us, well, us is our capacity to communicate complex ideas (another awesome human characteristic is our opposable thumb, but that’s for another day). We are story tellers and each generation has their story to tell, typically marked by an Earth-shattering experience.
Of course, my generation’s “where were you” moment is – and forever will be – 9/11. My parents’ generation’s story starts with “where where you when X got shot,” where X can be, in no particular order, JFK, RFK, MLK, Lennon. A generation marked by assassination.
My grandparents’ generation is a different story. Some grandparents mark 12/7/41, the attack on Pearl Harbor, as their moment, while other grandparents remember the day they were forced to wear yellow stars (and all the horrors that followed). A generation marked by mass bloodshed. They’re called The Greatest Generation, and for all their prosperity and expansion, they are defined by war.
We tell stories to remember. But we also tell stories to cope, to feel like we’re not alone in our shared experiences. Today marks the anniversary of my generation. Prior to 9/11, our generation’s collective questions were either about the Challenger explosion (I was in Mr. Neilson’s second grade recorder class) or the OJ Simpson runaway Ford Bronco marathon and/or verdict (I was in Senora Cutchall’s 11th grade Spanish class). A generation marked by a media circus. Both of those experiences didn’t change the world, couldn’t compete with the assasination of a president or the bombing of a harbor. But now.
Nine years. 3,285 days. My generation will never forget. How could we? Nine years later, networks replay that day in real time, as if we’re begging to be thrown back into that turbulent day. What they don’t show is the day after, the weeks after. The smoldering ruins covered the NY skyline for weeks. But most importantly, we don’t see the numbness those of us in the area felt; the calmness. People were in shock, to the point where traffic jams on the Parkway or in the city were not the cacophonous orchestra NYers are accustomed to. People held doors for others, said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you’ more than before. We were cordial. New York was humanized.
Nine years. 3,285 days. A lot has happened in between, both amazingly good and terrifyingly bad. Our country has elected our first black leader; our country let a city a drown. We’ve lost homes and jobs, and at times, our cool. These moments are overshadowed by 9/11 because every day since, all 3,285 of them, we’re reminded we live in a different world.
In light of the 15-minutes-of-fame-pastor in Florida, as well as the completely ludicrous discussion of the Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan, today is as good a day as any to pause and reflect on what kind of society we want to be. The last 3,285 days have created a rift in our fabric to the point where millions of people believe that yelling and screaming and being filled with anger is the only means to an end. We should remember how we treated one another immediately following the terrorist attacks. We should remember telling each other, “It’ll be ok. Just stand by me and we’ll all be OK. Just treat each other well and we’ll all be OK.” We should remember that our collective story isn’t over and that we can make it better.
Nine years. 3,285 days.