I visited the 9/11 Memorial in May 2012. It was my mom’s birthday and we braved the long flight with our then two-year old to celebrate with the family. We had the rest of the weekend to spend in the city, and going to the memorial was something I needed to do.
After waiting in an incredibly long line, we entered the memorial grounds along with hundreds of other people. I kept thinking that I didn’t quite understand the need for so much security — what could really happen, after all, that hadn’t already happened? I was amazed by how many tourists there were…and they were taking photos, lots of photos. And they were smiling…and posing…and re-posing…and smiling some more. And they must have been very mad at the guy that kept walking through their photos with his two-year old in a stroller. I ruined a few photos. Perhaps that’s something I shouldn’t be proud of, and I’m not really. I just couldn’t understand the smiling.
I took one photo at the memorial. It was of Mark Bingham’s name. I have nothing in common with Mr. Bingham except that he lived in San Francisco and worked in public relations. He was two years older than me. He was gay, a rugby player and one of the heroes of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, who sacrificed his life to make sure the plane didn’t get to its intended target in Washington D.C. Did I mention he was gay? While Kim Davis gets lauded by some people for taking a stand against gay marriage – which is legal! – I wonder if the other heroic passengers on Flight 93 checked in on each others’ sexual orientation before storming the cockpit. I think we know the answer to that.
But what do I know?
It’s been 14 years since 9/11. Kind of hard to believe. I was 29 years old in September 2011 and Amy and I had been married for just over three months. Our life today could not be more different.
Today, many of my friends – almost exclusively from New York – will post a memory or a remembrance of 9/11, or change their profile photo to the twin towers or the FDNY logo or a friend or family member they lost, and I’ll once again notice how few of the people I know — especially on the west coast — commemorate the day. I think that is the human brain at work. The closer you were to the tragedy both geographically and emotionally, the more likely you are to post publicly about your feelings. In some ways that’s unfair. We all grieve and honor in our own way. Some of us write.
But what do I know?
The world for my generation changed that day in September. I believe that every generation has a defining moment – unfortunately they are usually violent. My grandparents were around 30 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. My parents were around 26 years old at the start of the Tet offensive in Vietnam. I was 29 on 9/11. We were old enough to put the event in its proper context but not too old where we’d already witnessed atrocity. I often think about the real legacy of 9-11. Is the country more divided now than it was on September 10, 2001? I think so. 9/11 was supposed to bring us together, and it did…for about six months. What about extreme religion, gun violence and discrimination? Was that always there to the extent it seems now or did 9/11 somehow play a role?
Perhaps before 9/11 ignorance truly was bliss. Now ignorance gets you more Twitter followers, funny memes and some false hero worship.
Perhaps the birth of the internet and the economy play a much larger role in our world today than any outcome from 9/11. For me, the legacy is fear. The fear that that something tragic can happen to you or someone you love just because of where you’re standing at any given time. Sitting in a theater, on a train, at your desk. The possibility was always there, 9/11 made it real.
My two boys will be 27 and 30 years old in 2040. I sometimes wonder what their global defining moment will be. I’d like to envision that in 2040, my boys will put down their iPhone 31s just in time to see really friendly aliens land just so they can get access to my bunker filled with bottles of classic coke (which of course will be outlawed by 2025).
In truth, it’s way more likely to be a mass climate event or some type of war.
But what do I know?
Photo: By Nightscream (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: “World Trade Center, New York City – aerial view (March 2001)” by Jeffmock – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:World_Trade_Center,_New_York_City_-_aerial_view_(March_2001).jpg#/media/File:World_Trade_Center,_New_York_City_-_aerial_view_(March_2001).jpg