Friday, September 11, 2009

In Retrospect

Even after eight years it's hard to contemplate the events of September 11th, 2001. One thing I remember is that I was teaching World Literature to my high school class. Often I forget to write the date on the board, and so that morning I made a point of writing it out: September 11, 2001. Usually I might just abbreviate it like this: Sept.11. I'm not sure why I wrote it out that day; it's a coincidence and nothing more. One of my students, though, after hearing the news, asked me tearfully: "Why did you write out the date? You never write out the whole date like that! Why did you do it?" She seemed to feel that by writing out that now-legendary date I had somehow set events in motion, had precipitated the tragedy that no one, even now, can quite comprehend.

But I wrote the date and then went about teaching, not knowing what would happen any more than the other Americans who went about their morning routines. We were reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, and were discussing, ironically, a part in which terrorists kill the president and Congress and take over the running of the country. I was trying to persuade my students that it wasn't as crazy as it sounded--that freedom was a precarious thing unless people were vigilant.

Then a white-faced colleague called me into the hall. Based on her expression, I thought she was going to tell me that one of my children had been hurt or killed; so when she told me that the World Trade Center had been attacked I felt a momentary relief, terrible as that sounds, because my children were safe.

But I didn't feel that they were safe as the day went on, as the horrible footage played across television screens and we saw the aftermath of hatred. Anyone's safety seemed like an illusion at that point, and the dead were like victims of some horrible lottery, some chance decision of an enemy.

Now we have, perhaps, an emotional distance, but it all comes back, feels immediate again, when we see the footage and hear the stories. We'll never forget and, as people predicted on that day, we'll never view the world quite the same way.

(Note: this is an encore posting of an essay I wrote last year. I thought it was worth one more reflection on this day before I retired it).

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