For the past 15 years I have been saying, “Never Forget,” though admittedly less and less often with each passing 9-11. This year, despite it being a milestone anniversary, it felt like the day went by with little notice in the media. Here’s someone reading one of the almost 3,000 names, there’s the bell ringing for one of the six moments of silence, now on to other news. How far we have come from those early days when the nation was nearly one and flags were flying everywhere you turned. I remember even months after that horrible day I went to a Minnesota Wild’s hockey game and everyone stood for the National Anthem with a heavy heart; you knew what was on their minds; you could feel the pain and pride in the room.
The changing face of 9-11 was inevitable, I know. There was a dramatic shift for me seven years ago when my son was born on the eighth anniversary – a sure sign that life goes on – but that doesn’t mean that I have forgotten. I will remember those moments in the core of my being until the day I die. The clock radio waking me up with news that, “A second plane had just hit the building.” What building? What plane? Then watching live on TV as these great monuments to human ingenuity came crashing down in a testament to human depravity. It took me a minute (it felt like an hour) to comprehend what I was seeing. The most surreal moment of my life, where my mind could genuinely not understand what my eyes had just witnessed.
The phrase, “Never Forget,” has come to mean different things to different people. For some it is all about the victims; never forget the lives lost. For others it is an object lesson is arrogance; never forget that we must be vigilant, or something to that effect. Never forget that the world is filled with bad people; with evil. Never forget that we stand for something – a shining city on a hill – and that makes us a target. Then there are the more despicable interpretations; that America is the true evil in the world and we deserved it; that the U.S. Government, President Bush, or some sinister cabal in the Intelligence Community did it; and, of course, the ever-popular, “Jews did it.” Then there are the recriminations about what should have been done to stop this and what should not have been done in response to it; every armchair general and talking head can tell you all about it.
What struck me most about 9-11 this year, however, is the fact that an ever-growing number of people will never remember it, because they didn’t live it. We can command them to, “Never Forget,” as people have long admonished us to do with the Holocaust but learning is not remembering. When you study traumatic historical events like this, the outcome is known at the outset; the fear and confusion isn’t felt, it’s intellectualized; and the players involved are reduced to characters in a book or on a movie screen. I’m not saying that it’s pointless to learn history – anyone who knows me at all knows that I love the subject – but we need to accept its limitations.